Tag Archives: sculpture

Cardiff Public Art Collection

For my third UK public art collection visit I made my way to Cardiff. Cardiff Council speaks of having a collection of 200+ permanent public artworks. In contrast to Folkestone’s seven years of collecting the artworks in Cardiff range back over 150 years.

My first Cardiff public art encounter, seen as I crossed the road from my hotel en route into the city centre, were two giant grey fists rising out of the pavement. Consulting the information I have brought with me I find that this is an artwork called ‘All Hands’ (by Brian Fell). Later I find out from the artist’s website that the sculpture is sited above a enclosed canal that was once was a coal supply route down to the docks. The artwork being intended as a commemoration to Cardiff’s dockworkers. But what I notice on the street is the way a small crowd of people has gathered on the seating set around the sculpture, not looking at it but facing away from it. As I walk round to the other side I realise that the sculpture is really close to a popular bus stop. I wonder if any of these waiting passengers are thinking about dock workers or are aware of the canal beneath them?

Sculpture and bus stop. 'All Hands' (Brian Fell, 2001)

Sculpture and bus stop. ‘All Hands’ (Brian Fell, 2001)

The next artwork I come upon is sited in the pedestrianized area around the St David’s Shopping Centre and immediately outside the central city library. It is one of the newer artworks in the city, installed in 2009 as part of the St David’s Public Art Programme. It is certainly a big work (25m high) but it also has an ambitious aim. According to a plaque inlaid into the pavement nearby, ‘Alliance’ represents ‘the meeting of past and present and a new symbol for the city’s future’. I learn later from my Cardiff conversations that this two-element sculpture is referred to locally as the ‘Hoop and Stick’. It’s a good description. The Wikipedia entry for ‘Alliance’ states that the hoop is filled with a liquid that is programmed to rise and fall to mark the changing tide on the Bristol Channel (an intriguing detail, if this is still working). I go into the library to get a different view of the artwork and the public space around it. Looking down I watch the movement of people passing under the ‘hoop’: from what I observe it seems an irresistible climbing challenge for some young children.

'Alliance' or the 'Hoop and Stick', outside Cardiff Library (Jean-Bernard Metals, 2009).

‘Alliance’ or the ‘Hoop and Stick’, outside Cardiff Library (Jean-Bernard Metals, 2009).

These two works are my first introductions to the Cardiff public art collection. Over the next day or so of my visit I explore the city and its artworks further, focusing especially on the three areas mapped out in the walking tour maps sent to me by my contact in Cardiff Council: the city centre, the historic ‘Civic Centre’ and the redeveloped waterfront at Cardiff Bay. Just looking at the maps you get an idea of how different these three areas are spatially. The city centre map appears to shows its collection of artworks as inserted into a tightly packed streetscape, spread out in a string along the high street or marking significant street corners. The Civic Centre map meanwhile indicates a much more planned arrangement. Here the artworks are part of the mid 19th-early 20th century architectural design of the grand civic quarter, embellishments of the buildings themselves or set out as formal statues and memorials in the surrounding green space. The Bay map plots its own artwork collection against the blue and open backdrop of the waterfront and around Cardiff’s contemporary architectural symbols, the Millennium Centre and the Senedd (Welsh Assembly).

The following offers a sample of some of the artworks, spatial-visual confrontations and public art audiencing activities that I encountered and observed during my visits to these three very different areas of the city. (Artwork credits courtesy Cardiff Council’s Cardiff Public Art Register)

City Centre

Civic Centre

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff’s regeneration focused approach to public art commissioning, especially as centred on the Cardiff Bay development in the 1990s, has been the subject of much academic and social debate. For background history and critiques of Cardiff’s public art approach see for example:

Gonçalves, A. & Thomas, H., 2012. CASE STUDY: Waterfront tourism and public art in Cardiff Bay and Lisbon’s Park of Nations. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, (August 2015), pp.1–26.

Hall, T. & Robertson, I., 2001. Public Art and Urban Regeneration : Advocacy , claims and critical debates. Landscape Research, 26(1), pp.5–26.






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Milton Keynes public art collection

Over July and August I’m carrying out a series of research visits to three UK public art ‘collections’ as part of my PhD fieldwork. The first of these visits took me down to Milton Keynes. This is a place I’d certainly read quite a lot about in terms of its cultural geography [1, 2, 3] but never actually visited before. Milton Keynes is famous as the UK’s largest and, for some, most successful ‘new town’. It was built in the late 1960s to a radical modernist design that has been described as something of a meeting between the futurism of American architect Buckminster Fuller and the romanticism of the English ‘Garden City’. For some its original design (led by architect and town planner Derek Walker) is still seen as visionary, one of the great unsung projects of British post-war design. For others the town is a characterless, ‘brutalist wasteland’ [4], and a ‘Mecca for roundabouts’[5].

Unusually in the UK, Milton Keynes is also a town that actively promotes itself as having a ‘public art collection’: the reason for my research visit. This is a collection that encompasses some 220 permanent artworks located across the city centre and its wider area. I was only able to visit a small proportion of these during my visit, concentrating on the works located in the centre of Milton Keynes that feature in the city’s official ‘City Centre Artwalk’ booklet.


Milton Keynes Artwalk Map

Starting from the ‘Theatre District’ this route led me in a looping circuit around the central grid of Milton Keynes. This encompasses the town’s main commercial, retail and civic hub situated between the parallel tree-lined ‘Boulevards’ – the romantically (paganly?) named ‘Avebury’, ‘Midsummer’ and ‘Silbury’ – and their intersecting ‘Gates’. For a visitor, and public art researcher, like me one of the most striking features of this route is the way in which the public art walk threads between outdoor street space and the interior ‘malls’ of its main shopping centre ‘The Centre: MK’ and the adjoining (now listed) ‘Midsummer Place’. Two of Milton Keynes most locally popular artworks are sited within these malls: ‘Vox Pop (The Family)’ and a small herd of Liz Leyh’s original ‘Concrete Cows’ (sometimes cynically described as a symbol of MK’s all-pervasive ‘concreteness’).

'Vox Pop (The Family), John Clinch, 1988. According to the Artwork Guide Clinch's sculpture 'celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous'. It was 'originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city'.

‘Vox Pop (The Family), John Clinch, 1988. According to the Artwork Guide Clinch’s sculpture ‘celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous’. It was ‘originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city’.

Concrete Cows

‘Concrete Cows’. These are the ‘original’ concrete cows created by resident MK artist Liz Leyh and local schoolchildren in 1978. These are now corralled around the remains of the town’s celebrated oak tree in the middle of the Midsummer Place shopping mall.

Other mall-based public artworks include a humorous bronze ‘book’ bench by Bill Woodrow (outside Waterstones), ‘Circle of Light’ by US born kinetic artist Liliane Lijn (a work which I was looking for but somehow managed to miss in my walk round), and a series of fantastical bronzes by British sculptor Philomena Davis. These are located in ‘Silbury Arcade’, alongside branches of Carphone Warehouse, Claire’s, and Patisserie Valerie. Together these mall-sited works are striking examples of the way the viewing (visuality) of public artworks is often enmeshed within the urban retail experience: an ingredient of urban visuality and ‘aestheticisation’ that has been specifically highlighted in reference to Milton Keynes [6].

'High Flyer' one of three bronzes by Philomena Davis. According to the artist these works 'depict man's fantasy with flight and escapism'.

‘High Flyer’ one of three bronzes by Philomena Davis sited in Silbury Arcade. According to the artist these works ‘depict man’s fantasy with flight and escapism, in particular….that come to us in childhood and adolescence’. According to the on-site label the sculpture is modelled on one of the artist’s own children.

Exploring beyond the polished spaces of the shopping mall the outdoor streetscape of Milton Keynes felt like a very different material and visual environment for public art. Away from the brightness of the newer retail and leisure developments this is a less manicured and much more worn space. One that is open to the elements and that feels both concrete and green. The aesthetic here would seem to echo that of the sculpture ‘court’ or the ‘sculpture park’, albeit often on a pocket scale and in a rougher urban form. My public art route took me through a number of such spaces. A rather neglected public seating area/walkway between a branch of Wallis and one of the main Boulevards held an energetic (‘Vorticist’ inspired?) bronze by Michael Sandle: the radically titled, ‘A Mighty Blow for Freedom:****the Media’, while a trio of abstract and colourful sculptures by artist/designer Bernard Schottlander dominated the dried out summer lawn and patio of the park leading up to the City Church.

'A Mighty Blow for Freedom: ****the Media', Michael Sandle, 1988. The Artwalk Guide tells me that the work is a twist in a well known film company logo, here replacing the famous gong, with a man swinging an axe into a television.

‘A Mighty Blow for Freedom: ****the Media’, Michael Sandle, 1988. The Artwalk Guide tells me that the work is a twist on a well known film company logo, here replacing the famous image of the gong sounder with a man swinging an axe into a television.

Two sculptures from the '3B' and '2M' series. Simple forms which, according to the guide, are a play on the artist's initials: BMS.

Two sculptures from the ‘3B’ and ‘2M’ series. Simple forms which, according to the MK public art guide, are a play on the artist’s initials: BMS.

'The Object' Dhruva Mistry, 1995-7, tucked away in its own pocket 'sculpture park' near Milton Keynes Gallery.

‘The Object’ Dhruva Mistry, 1995-7, tucked away in its own pocket ‘sculpture park’ near Milton Keynes Gallery.

Beyond this artwork and once through the strange under-croft of the motorway Milton Keynes centre opens up into green space proper – Campbell Park and its outlook to the wider rural landscape beyond. This too contains a number of sculptures, many of these dating from the 1990s but also some newer works commissioned as part of the Campbell Park Public Art Plan . The latest of these is the ‘MK Rose’ the final artwork I visited as part of my Milton Keynes public art fieldtrip.

The ‘MK Rose’ by Gordon Young is designed as a new communal and commemorative space for Milton Keynes. It is a physical ‘calendar of days’ represented by 105 pillars each dedicated to a different day of celebration or commemoration, some national and some local to Milton Keynes.

The ‘MK Rose’ by Gordon Young is designed as a new communal and commemorative space for Milton Keynes. It is a physical ‘calendar of days’ represented by 105 pillars each dedicated to a different day of celebration or commemoration, some national and some local to Milton Keynes. The work was commissioned by the Milton Keynes Cenotaph Trust and the Milton Keynes Parks Trust.


[1] Massey, D. & Rose, G., 2003. Personal Views: Public Art Research Project.

[2] AMH, 2006. Public Art in Milton Keynes Street Survey.

[3] Basdas, B., Degen, M. & Rose, G., 2009. Learning about how people experience built environments,

Learning about how people experience built environments – Dr Begum Basdas, Dr Monica Degen and Prof Gillian Rose

[4] Voices, P. et al., 2015. Concrete bungle : Exhibition of history of Milton Keynes fails to capture flawed urban experiment Milton Keynes deserves more than a PR version of its futuristic roots. , (July).

[5] Independent, S.T., 2015. Derek Walker : Architect and planner who designed Milton Keynes dies aged 85. , (July).

[6] Degen, M., DeSilvey, C. & Rose, G., 2008. Experiencing visualities in designed urban environments: Learning from Milton Keynes. Environment and Planning A, 40(8), pp.1901–1920.

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Public art discourse: audiences

The Angel of the North after heavy snowfall

A series of black and white images of ‘The Angel of the North’ in the winter snow captured by photographer Owen Humphreys, and widely published in the UK press and media over the last few days, seem to have inspired a surge of ‘Angel of the North’ related Tweets.

I thought it would interesting and timely to Storify some of these here, to evidence some of the different ways in which people are using Twitter to disseminate their personal engagement with ‘The Angel of the North’ (Antony Gormley, 1998).

For now this is just meant to provide a kind of online storage space for a sample of this material and an initial indication of possible themes for fuller and more formal exploration later. It’s also a bit of a personal experiment for me in using Twitter, Storify and social media more generally as a resource for data collection and analysis within my PhD research.

Many of these recent Tweets are linked to images. These seem to fall into three basic categories: (1.) A large proportion consisted of links to and retweets of the Owen Humphrey’s photos published in The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC website and elsewhere. (2.) Original photos recording visitors’ own recent snowy experiences of ‘up-close’ visits to the sculpture. (3.) What could be called ‘drive-past’ or landmark shots – a glimpse or view of ‘The Angel of the North’, clearly captured from a moving car. Several of these images are accompanied by messages or hashtags linking these ‘sightings’ to notions of ‘arrival’.

Text-based tweets reflect a range of other personal responses and allusions. These might be grouped as: (1.) Those that reference ‘The Angel of the North’ as a physical location or progress marker. (2.) Those that offer emotional responses, opinions, ‘facts’ or imaginative speculations about the sculpture. (3.) Tweets that link ‘The Angel of the North’ with wider public art discussions. (4.) Tweets that appear to use the title ‘Angel of the North’ as a phrase to describe someone or something else other than Antony Gormley’s sculpture.

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Rotate, retire….

Listening to Radio 4 on Thursday last week I happened to catch artist Andrew Shoben’s programme Change of Art, exploring the idea of “rotating” or “retiring” unwanted public art works – a concept that I’m also interested in exploring as part of my PhD research into the NewcastleGateshead ‘collection’. Like a lot of media coverage of contemporary art this was a fairly light hearted piece (with a rather jaunty musical accompaniment), but nevertheless offers an interesting overview of some of the issues surrounding decommissioning, temporality and audience engagement in public art.

The programme opened with Shoben embarking on an ad hoc street survey of people’s responses to an art work called ‘Arrows and Obelisks’ (a 1995 shiny stainless steel work) by sculptor Peter Logan, which is sited on the Old Kent Road in London and is a work that Shoben himself would like to have forcibly ‘retired’. “What do you think of this as a sculpture?” asks Shoben, “It’s been there for ages. All I do is look in it as I walk past, to check what I look like…” is one typically unenthusiastic reply.

Shoben starts his investigations with a visit to the Cass Sculpture Foundation (described by Antony Gormley later in the programme as “a garden centre for rootless art objects”) to choose a replacement work for the Old Kent Road site, and then moves on to meet with a series of other art world experts: Sandy Nairne (Director of the National Portrait Gallery) for a discussion about artistic risk-taking and the success of the rotating commissions programme for The Fourth Plinth ; curator Michaela Crimmin and art law expert Henry Lydiate, on the practical and legal difficulties of siting and decommissioning of art works in the public realm (planning permission, road closures and legal ownership are just some of the key issues discussed); and ending his exploration with an interview with Antony Gormley in which the sculptor argues for the ‘temporal responsibility” of the artist, to create something that lasts.

Bravely perhaps, Shoben also asks passersby about what they think of one of his own public works, ‘Monument to the Unknown Artist’, noting (rather unsurprisingly) that there seem to be as many different responses as there are members of the public. Shoben concludes the programme by asking whether the ‘public’ should have a more recognised role in the decommissioning process, or in wider decision making about ‘public’ art. To stimulate further popular debate on these issues, Shoben has set up a Bad Public Art UK page on Flickr to invite nominations for future sculptural removals.

Change of Art was originally broadcast on Radio 4, 11.30, 18 October 2012. Producers: Joby Waldman and Kathryn Willgress. It was A Somethin’ Else production.

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Cataloguing public art

Reading my notes on Wickham’s work on ranking collections again yesterday, I was reminded to have another look at the classification table used by the Public Monument and Sculpture Association in data collection for its National Recording Project. Set up in 1997 and continuing until 2003 this research project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, aimed to create a detailed catalogue of British public sculpture and monuments and to disseminate this material as an online resource and via a series of publications.

The resulting database includes both historic (from 1200) and contemporary sculptural works, including architectural details and functional pieces. Each record includes the following standard fields:

  • Type (e.g. sculpture, marker, statue, fountain)
  • Title
  • Name of sculptor
  • Date of design
  • Year of unveiling
  • Location details (address, physical description e.g. “amongst trees on bank”, OS Ref, postcode)
  • Listing status
  • Duty of care (e.g. local authority)
  • Name of commissioner
  • Notes (physical description and full details of commissioning history, if known)
  • Physical condition
  • Inscriptions
  • Signatures
  • Element details (materials and physical dimensions)
  • Assessment of condition (surface and structural, including any vandalism)

While recording a huge number of art works (9,300 nationally) and a high level of detail (sometimes almost amounting to a ‘biography’) this project seems scrupulous in not making any attempt to rank or compare the works it records.

The North East volume of the catalogue – Public Sculpture of North-East England – published by Liverpool University Press (2000) and researched by Paul Usherwood, Jeremy Beach and Catherine Morris at Northumbria University, will be one of the key starting points for my research into the NewcastleGateshead Collection.

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