Initial Public Offering

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Angel Ballons_380x285.JPG
Angel of the North, Antony Gormley, 1998 / GATESHEAD COUNCIL

The Brits are getting up a full head of steam again over a proposal for a major public art project. I’ve already mentioned a few times my case of U.K. envy on this. It’s not that we don’t have the occasional outburst of public art here and there in the U.S. And there are operations like the New York-based Creative Time generating mostly temporary projects wherever they can. But nothing short of a project on the scope of The Gates in New York or the opening of Millennium Park in Chicago seems to generate the kind of media interest that the Brits manage all the time over the Turner Prize or the Fourth Plinth competition.

This time the competition is to create a public sculpture to mark a new transit center in Kent, with an ambition to create something comparable to the Angel of the North, the monumental Antony Gormley sculpture in Gateshead. (Which has never looked that good to me in photographs, so I keep reminding myself that you can’t make judgments based on photographs. But if you could make judgments based on photographs……)

It’s a complete grab bag of finalists for the Kent commission, including Mark Wallinger, who just won the Turner Prize and whose best known work is a painstaking full scale replica of a one man anti-war protest encampment in London, the French artist Daniel Buren, who specializes in fairly severe formal/conceptual exercises (like the utterly boring stripes he hung all over the Guggenheim in New York a few years ago), the figurative artist Christopher Le Brun, Richard Deacon, a form maker very much like Martin Puryear, and Rachel Whiteread, who’s more interesting, to me at least, at large scale than at small.

Jonathan Jones, the critic for the British daily The Guardian, wishes the whole thing would go away. God knows making a fuss over the height of the commission is the wrong way to go about the job. But I’d be happy to see a competition in the U.S. every year that got submissions from people like Puryear, Judy Pfaff, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Mark di Suvero and what the hell, Jeff Koons.

Last thought — Jones is still glad at least that the finalists didn’t include Ron Mueck. Actually, having seen Mueck’s museum retrospective a few times last year, I’d like to see what he could do with a big public commission. Is there still a way to make a realistic figurative sculpture for a public site? He might be the one to do it.