Monday, March 17, 2008

No Mr. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, more Sculpture please

It interests me that such a celebrated academic of international dimension should cast such a shadow upon the hard working sculptors of Great Britain in his article in the Evening Standard on the 7th of March.

It has taken that long for me to count to ten!

I do not need to defend any sculptor’s work on display in our green and pleasant land. I love trees too but we have so few sculptures that we are again “the poor man of Europe”. Historically we have been a nation of abstainers from the frivolity of fine sculpture so favored by the Catholic countries. Only the very rich could afford sculpture in their gardens. Public funds were often controlled by Puritanical spend thrifts who did not believe in wasting it on such things as fountains and sculpture. Mr. Armesto’s is a traitor to his other country where there are some delightful works to see.

I will not deny there is plenty of sculpture that Anthony Gormley does not like; but others too have an equal right to an opinion. I am not that keen on portrait monuments to the great and good but a beautiful work of art to celebrate an event or just to “celebrate” is part of our need, as humans, to express our emotion.

To advocate the replacement of public sculpture with trees is like suggesting we drop the “Proms” in the Albert Hall and replace them with academic lectures of marginal interest because “they are better for us”. Or perhaps you could ban our pop concerts and replace them with political rallies. That would go down well!

There are plenty of people who are getting bored with the same old stuff and it is important for Mr. Gormley to remember that; especially when he casts another plaster replica of himself.

Sometimes I am tempted to agree with Filipe; "The Liver Bird" funded by the BBC to the tune of £66,000 by Miss dirty bed, is one in mind, but I do defend her right to express herself and Gormley to caste as many of his bodies as people will pay for. If it is bad sculpture then it is in the eye of that beholder; to others it might be good sculpture, both will get the pigeon treatment.

We do like sculpture as a nation you need only look at the numbers of visitors to exhibitions and sculpture parks to see that.

Fine Art Bronze Foundries are near extinction in this country I can hardly say the same for garden centres! So, no Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, more Sculpture please.

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Blogger Marly Youmans said...

Rah, Robert!

4:56 pm  
Blogger chris miller said...

Can you post a scan of his essay, Robert ? I can't find it on the web.

3:57 pm  
Blogger Robert said...


This article isn't just critical about sculptors' works but their right to exhibit sculpture at all. It is the very core of our freedom he is trying to limit.

I defend his right to do the former but the latter is what we all believe in and have fought for. I am very angry about it.

I have sent a copy of it to you by email.

To all my e friends ; have a wonderful Easter and I promise to be back blogging soon when I have completed the big figure and the Stallion.

10:34 pm  
Blogger chris miller said...

Thanks for the copy of the article, Robert.

Below are some keys snippets:

"the monumental commemoration of individuals is now so alien to us that it can no longer inspire great art"

"the emptiness of the plinth is the best possible monument to the anonymity of true heroism which is selfless and self effacing, especially if it is English."

"Statues of individuals do not belong in a democracy at peace with itself. They ignite partisanship, flatter leaderhship, and mask the truth about our grandest achievements which is that they are collective.- just like our biggest failures and follies. Hero worship is an un-English activity, better suited to romantic and idealistic cultures."

"The art that would really suit london would chime with the peculiarities ofthe city's culture and history. It's beauties are its parks and squares. The greatest English art is gardening and one of the greatest English virtues is love of lightly landscaped nature - of trees and grass and flowers and butterflies and birdsong."

"Money squandered on sculpture should be re-dedicated to opening green squares in the slums, planting gardens in the concrete deserts, landscaping the round-abouts, replacing hostile signage with trees -- there will be at least one happy side effect, the birds will multiply and gild
and grace the statues with more guano than ever."

I think I'll work up a longer reply..
but my first thoughts are:

*sculpture that is ugly should not be part of the permanent public cityscape -- regardless of the "rights" of the sculptor to express herself.

*I consider the famous Angel sculpture by Gormley to be an eyesore.

*Perhaps I'd agree that "Statues of individuals do not belong in a democracy at peace with itself" -- but I consider peace to be for the dead--and conflict for the living -- so bring it on!

In America, the two great subjects of public sculpture are Lincoln and currently Martin Luther King -- and that's how it should be, since they address our major national issue.

*I like Felipe's idea of designing small garden parks -- but what enhances a park more than beautiful sculpture ? This is the kind of thing you find in Japan -- lots of tiny little sculpture parks/gardens
(and the Japanese are as nuts about gardening as the English)

*In summary -- perhaps I'd say that Contemporary Art belongs in galleries - but public spaces can be enhanced with beautiful sculpture - especially figure sculpture !

2:52 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

My replies to your stars Chris

• The trouble is you have to decide what is ugly and even you and I disagree on that Chris. If individual or private money is prepared to pay for it then there should at least some freedom to exhibit subject to current legislation.
• The Angel of the North is dramatic, a landmark and loved by many, ignored by some and hated by the rest. I don’t like it much. I am very bored with casts of his own body.
• Not quite sure I understand what you mean by that one.
• We have lots of gardens in London; mostly private and few with sculpture in them. No room for any more. Like New York, you would have to put them on the roof. I agree in principle though.
• Your summary is spot on.

4:32 pm  
Blogger Marly Youmans said...

I think Chris meant race relations...

Has this led to a mutiny of sculptors? General uprising against the article?

9:01 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

Marley, I havn't found any, but then I am a little distracted at present. I left a comment on Louise Jury's blog Evening Standard website here and it has not be added to!

9:30 am  
Blogger Robert said...

I have not yet seen either the Cat at Catford or the Meeting place at St Pancras in the flesh. From the pictures I have seen on the internet the former looks rather fun, but I would hardly call it sculpture and the latter I hate, but in its defence that is how some people look, ugly. Yes it could have been really beautiful. I will not lay all the blame on Paul Day, after all he was only allowed a very small space in which to place something worthy of this great Railway Station. Had he been given more freedom may be we would have seen something a little more adventurous, more memorable, more attractive; say two adult figures in more interesting cloths running towards each other from different sides of the station with appropriate expressions on their faces. Or perhaps a group of children preparing to be collected during the wartime evacuation would have been more poignant. What is nevertheless good about this work is that it now exists for us to comment and to learn from. If Felipe had his way it would be a very unhappy tree!

9:51 am  

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