Viewing single post of blog Researching Public Art in Leeds

As with the proposed new artwork for Dewsbury Road, it’s become apparent to me that it’s very different commissioning a public artwork for neighbourhoods is very different to installing work in a city centre. When I spoke to Kenn Taylor at The Tetley about this he said “It’s a different context when you are working in a residential area, an area where people lived and have lived for generations with layers and layers of history, and community and culture. That doesn’t mean to say you have to be a slave to the context, but I think ignoring the context and just plonking something down there is not necessarily the best way to go about it.”

In Chapeltown in Leeds, there are a number of public artworks. Most notably, what could also be called a ‘gateway’ sculpture (as Dewsbury road has been labelled) is the Chapeltown C. Created by Alan Pergusey, in collaboration with the public, from three proposed designs. Standing a little above head height, a large aluminium-clad C, which features motifs, text and mosaic. The Chapeltown C has a real community feel about it, it’s not pretentious art, it suits the area and the people of Chapeltown. Further up the road, a more recent installation of bright geometric patterns made out of tape, decorate a disused building site in a guerrilla style. The presence of East Street Arts in Chapeltown has made a big impact on the local art in the area and I feel that it brings vibrancy and celebrates this diverse part of the city.

It’s no secret in Leeds that one neighbourhood sculpture seems to be a bone of contention. Perhaps down to a misunderstood process, rumour mill wound up by local press, or an overly simplistic approach to a design. Inhabiting a roundabout in an area of Leeds named Crossgates, lives a pair of brightly coloured gates. Although the colour of the gates, I believe, has changed since it’s installation in 2009 – it still angers local residents. Again, dubbed as a ‘Welcome Sculpture’ due to it’s location on a main thoroughfare into Leeds city centre. For this district, I feel, the question is now, how to create positive interactions with this work?

I know that public artwork, especially those which are commissioned in residential areas, is incredibly difficult to appease everyone who sees it. Something I’ve observed (wether to do with public opinion and attitudes in the current climate, I’m not sure) is that the public are more keen to criticise and complain than think, observe, celebrate and understand a piece of artwork. This I can imagine is very difficult for artists and arts organisations that lead the commissioning of these works.

Currently on display outside the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds is Nicholas Monro’s ‘King Kong’, originally installed in 1972 in Birmingham as part of the ‘City Sculpture’ initiative commissioned by the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation. Today, it forms part of an exhibition about the Sculpture for Public Places scheme from 1972 and details some of the ground-breaking works which were commissioned. King Kong is striking, even in it’s position in the city centre, outside a major art gallery and it’s history is quite unusual. After being on display in Birmingham for six months, Birmingham City Council was offered the opportunity to purchase the work, but decided not to retain and instead it was sold for £3000 to a car dealership. This change in status from the public to the private usage is really intriguing for me and poses more questions for me about how an artwork’s context can change drastically.