Public displays get to art of the matter

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RE: Bathing Belles debate.

Kane Cunningham’s proposition asked whether the Bathing Belles were an example of bad Public Art.

Public art is different from the art found in a gallery or museum; it’s a permanent or temporary work of art (in any media), created specifically for a public space, and in 2010-11, £56 million was spent on public art.

In English this means, 1) the work should have a reason to be where it is, 2) it should say; define, and reveal something of the place, 3) it should be sited in the right space, and 4) it should speak for, and be welcomed and embraced, (but perhaps not literally), by the people who live and work there! Bad public art does none of the above, and there’s an amazing amount of bad public art in Britain!

This is art which has been ‘dumped’ on to a community by artists chasing the money; councils chasing public favour; and arts organisations chasing legitimacy, and these artworks are usually ridiculed, constantly vandalised, or at worst ignored.

Good public art, whether ‘high’ or ‘low’, thought provoking or humorous, immediately engages the community it lives with. The residents take ‘ownership’ and embrace the work, usually rechristening it in the process, eg Dublin’s The Monument of Light becomes ‘The Spike’, Conversation Piece in South Shields becomes ‘The Weebles’, and even the relatively new Angel of the North becomes known locally as ‘The Rusty Flasher’ - great work never fails in its promises! So do I think the ‘Bathing Belles’ fail? Well do they fulfil any of the above?

Regarding Kane Cunningham’s second point; Art and Committees.

The procedure of short listing the Bathing Belles; first through newspaper opinion; then a committee decision by Scarborough and District Civic Society, is the same process that failed Leeds in 1988. In that instance, they had the site, the money, everything in place to build what would have been the greatest piece of public art in Britain! However, the editor of the local newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, and the ignorant head of Leeds City Council created a poll (condemned by Mori) which purported to show that Leeds did not want a sculpture called The Brick Man, and so the great work; by a then relatively unknown sculptor called Anthony Gormley, was lost.

David Hann