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The good, the bad and the ugly of county’s public art
Public art is a tricky area. It’s very difficult to get right. Believe me I know.
One piece of art is about to “go up” in Didcot; another sculpture, in the view of many people, should “come down” in Oxford, The Swirl sculpture will arrive next Wednesday at the Orchard Centre in the heart of Didcot. The artist Maria Rosa Kramer told me she wanted the stainless steel artwork to celebrate the orchard that once grew where the shops now stand.
The idea was to take the skin of an apple and peel it into a new shape that would “sing a joyous song” in the middle of the buildings.
One side of the sculpture is designed to look like the warm, plump flesh of an apple and is polished to shine with the strength of a mirror, reflecting the people looking at it, the movement of the crowds in the Orchard Centre and the scudding clouds of the sky, all in a playful manner.
Didcot's soon-to-be erected Swirl
The other side of this ribbon of peel is the skin of the apple, bright warm red and the two strands create a single or series of images depending on where you stand.
Like every good sculpture it unfolds new ideas and images as you walk around it.
The Swirl ticks all the ‘right’ boxes. First it didn’t cost the public any money. The funding came from Taylor Woodrow, the original Orchard Centre developers, Hammerson the current leaseholder of the Centre and the Didcot Growth Fund.
Secondly, it has planning permission and was designed and built to enhance the specific site.
Thirdly, it’s vandal-proof – high enough to deter a thug with a pot of paint and Maria told me it has a coating to facilitate removal of any graffiti by “competing artists”.
Finally it passed the health and safety test, but only after changes demanded by Didcot Town Council “because the design lends itself to being climbed on by young people which could pose a danger, especially since it is located close to the steps; also it would provide a perch for birds, which would be likely to cause hygiene problems”.
The artist will be on hand to talk about her sculpture with the public and to conduct free workshops for children.
South Oxfordshire District Council, the power behind this event, plans to install it quietly on Wednesday between 8 and 9 in the morning, not quite prime time.
Why don’t they make a bigger splash, open their swirl with a swing, have a celebration and unveil the sculpture so it can soar in people’s imagination and “sing a joyous song”, because maybe, just maybe, they got it right?
The Iron Man perched on top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop in Oxford’s Broad Street had a massive ceremony to announce his arrival on February 15 five years ago. None other than the Lord Mayor of Oxford, Susanna Pressel, wrapped in her robes, unveiled this statue of a nude man.
Antony Gormley’s The Iron Man installed on the corner of Broad Street and Turl Street by Exeter College.
I remember it well. The Great and the Good were on the roof. The plebs were on the street. Alissa Robinson who organised the Oxford Jazz Festival told me afterwards: “We felt like the little people down in the street, while the big bosses were up on the roof. They were taking photos of us and we felt like we were just objects.”
The most prominent item on the day was the huge banner of the firm that lifted the figure to the top of the building owned by Exeter College.
The Kingerlee advert, draped from the roof, was about five times the height of the sculpture with the catchy slogan “Kingerlee – Craftsmanship in Construction”.
The seven foot high sculpture was created by Antony Gormley who also made The Angel of the North. It was part of a group of various figures originally made for a beach project.
There is some resemblance between The Angel of the North, the other beach sculptures and The Iron Man because Mr Gormley tends to take casts of his own body and create everything in his own image.
Exeter College put up the sculpture without planning permission so that Mr Gormley could find time to attend its unveiling which was brought forward to suit him.
John Buckley’s Shark, left, embedded in the roof of Bill Heine’s home in New High Street, Headington
The sculpture, facing the public in a full frontal pose, was not created for the Oxford site, but “bolted on”.
The responses I heard that day were not all refrains from a “joyous song”.
Eric Werner, a Balliol don, told me “It’s very ordinary, but in a city with loads of beautiful sculpture and public art I suppose it’s good to have something mediocre.
“It looks like an unwrapped mummy or a muddy bog body, the kind they’ve dug up in Germany. Is it a man? It’s got wide womanly hips. I think it is sort of androgynous, but on the other hand you can see the genitals.”
Oxford resident Gerard van Dam had an unusual perspective. “I find the Antony Gormley figure dull and having a deadening ‘production’ feel.
“I am tempted to suggest that the figure be turned 180 degrees. This would create gesture, modesty and mystery simultaneously.”
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