David Patten with ixia
“Only in the long view do we understand the proper value of everyday occupations and actions.”
3. Selected Essays:
• Public Art & the Reconstruction of Cities
• Public Art as Big Art, the Art of Scale
• Public Art & Schools
• Artists Of Place
• Licking Public Art
• Public Art & Peterlee New Town.
Public Art & the Reconstruction of Cities
Coventry 1945 – 1968 & Manchester 1996 – 2000
Over two nights (14 November 1940 and 8 April 1941), 818 tons of high explosive were dropped on Coventry city centre, destroying 4,185 houses and damaging 274 acres of land.
On Saturday 15 June 1996, a 3,300lb bomb exploded in Manchester city centre injuring 220 people and destroying some 49,000 square metres of prime retail space and 57,000 square metres of office space.
Coventry 1945 – 1968
The bombing of Coventry on the night of 14 November 1940 severely damaged Eric Gill’s in-situ sculptural reliefs recently completed (begun 31 October 1938) on the main entrance of the city’s new Coventry Hospital. Although one of the Gill reliefs has recently been rediscovered “located within a brick wall of a building on the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital site”, the others were so badly damaged that they were subsequently used as hard core in the post-war rebuilding of the hospital.
On the post-war reconstruction of Coventry, the then City Architect, Donald Gibson, said: “Now is the opportunity, which may never recur, to build a city for the future health, amenity and convenience of the citizens. The city is being made a test case, and its solutions will form a guide to the other cities, which have been similarly devastated.”
Like many other industrial cities of the time, Coventry already had in place its ‘plans for tomorrow’ before the strategic bombing of Britain destroyed the city. As Gibson was to say later, “We worked unofficially on a plan for the central area; our wives joined in and it was more or less done on the carpet at home in the evenings.”
By May 1940, six months before the first bombing, Gibson exhibited the plans for a new Coventry under the title ‘Coventry of Tomorrow’. This week-long exhibition of photographs and plans, prepared by Gibson’s assistant, Percy Johnson-Marshall, and presented on behalf of the Coventry Branch of the Association of Architects, Surveyors and Technical Assistants (AASTA), exposes the inaccuracy of Max Lock’s famous view on town planning of the period:
“Hitler has at last brought us to our senses. We, the British public, have suddenly seen our cities as they are! After experiencing the shock of familiar buildings disembowelled before our eyes … we find the cleared and cleaned-up spaces a relief. In them we have hope for the future, opportunities to be taken or lost. These open spaces begin to ventilate the congestion of our cities and maybe also of our imaginations” [Max Lock 1944].
The post-War reconstruction of Coventry was seen as a project of national significance, requiring a bold future vision. Following the November 1940 bombing, and over lunch at Claridges, Lord Reith, Minister of Works and Buildings, and the city Mayor agreed that Coventry “should be a test case…for the Government and for England.” Consequently, Coventry was one of only three comprehensive post-War reconstruction programmes (the others being Exeter and Plymouth).
In advance of the Town and Country Planning Act [1947 (10 & 11 Geo. VI c. 51)], the reconstruction of Coventry involved a “broad range of issues, including social, economic, morale and others, in addition to the simple physical restitution of war-damaged structures or the replacement of wholly destroyed structures” [Larkham & Nasr, 2004].
The 1945 exhibition ‘Coventry of the Future: Some Proposals and Suggestions for the Physical Reconstruction and Planning of the City of Coventry’, prepared by Gibson and City Engineer, Ernest Ford, attracted an audience of 50,000, i.e. one-sixth of the population. The city’s first post-War sculpture (‘The Levelling Stone in the Precinct’) was ready for installation as part of the Victory Day celebrations of 9 June 1946, and this art work not only marked the central axis of the proposed new shopping precinct but also announced the start of the reconstruction project.
Having set the foundations and marked out the general outline for the new city centre, Gibson left his post as City Architect and was replaced by Arthur Ling who delivered the physical build.
The post-War plan for the new city centre was based on two significant projects, a new pedestrianised shopping precinct (the first of its kind in Europe on such a scale) and a new cathedral (later undertaken by Sir Basil Spence). Significantly, both involved the commissioning of artists.
The work of the artists commissioned by the City’s Planning & Redevelopment Committee carry titles that reflect the trauma of city destruction and the optimism of city building, as in (by way of example):
John Skelton: ‘Rebuilding Coventry & the Co-op’s Activities’, letter-cutting  and ‘Growth of the City’, letter-cutting 
Trevor Tennant: ‘The Levelling Stone’, sculpture  and ‘The People of Coventry’, sculpture 
Walter Ritchie: ‘Man’s Struggle’, polychrome relief 
Gibson’s successor as City Architect, Arthur Ling, also contributed ‘Coventry’s Industries’, neon [1958 & 1961].
This period of artists contributing to the post-War reconstruction and reconciliation of Coventry possibly concluded with the piece ‘Yoko by John and John by Yoko’  by John Lennon & Yoko Ono. This comprised a seat and planted acorns in the “bombed almost to destruction” ‘old Cathedral’ [14th & 15th centuries], and was intended to give “people the opportunity to sit and contemplate.” Sadly, within days of opening, the “acorns were stolen…Lennon’s seat was thrown into shrubbery and the plaque bearing the title of the piece was removed” [George Noszlopy, 2003].
At Sir Basil Spence’s new St Michael’s Cathedral, art commissions included:
Graham Sutherland: “Christ in Glory” tapestry (the largest in the world) 
John Hutton: ‘West Screen Window’, glass engravings [1958-1961]
Jacob Epstein: ‘St Michael Subduing the Devil’  and ten ‘Cherub’s Head’ door handles (donated 1960)
John Piper with Patrick Reyntiens: ‘Baptistry Window’, stained glass .
Spence was “absolutely of the opinion that the three artists – the architect, the painter and the sculptor – should go hand in hand from the earliest possible moment.” This ideal partnership, however, seldom found full expression in his work. He viewed architecture as ‘the mother art’, in that it traditionally ‘brought together almost all the arts’, [and this] “meant that while artistic partnership might be possible within his projects, ‘hand in hand’ collaboration rarely materialized. Spence always retained control, orchestrating and conducting any artistic contributions to projects” [Walford 2009].
For Gibson, who also worked with artists on several post-War new-build school projects in both Coventry and Nottingham, the relationship between artist and architect was more practical. In 1946, Gibson and the artist Trevor Tennant had driven to the Lake District to ‘acquire’ a block of Cumberland granite on which they worked together to create ‘The Levelling Stone in the Precinct’ that announced Coventry’s post-War reconstruction.
Manchester 1996 – 2000
Exchange Square in Manchester is a direct consequence of the IRA bombing of 15 June 1996. As the BBC commented 10 years later [‘From bomb site to style capital’, BBC News 15.06.2006], “Without the bomb, Manchester may not have had such a dramatic opportunity for rebirth, funded by private investors and government cash.”
Led by Manchester Millennium Ltd, a public-private task force established jointly between the City Council and John Major’s Conservative Government, the post-bombing regeneration programme attracted £83m of public sector funding. Today, Exchange Square accommodates big name retail (Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Heals and Louis Vuitton) and a new £4m civic space designed by Martha Schwartz Inc (now Martha Schwartz Partners).
Following an international competition in November 1996, the winning team of EDAW proposed a master plan that would establish Manchester as “a regional centre in a Europe and global context…[offering] a quality of life and urban environment that is attractive for all those who want to live, work, shop and have fun in the City Centre” [RUDI]. As such, the six master plan strategic objectives included “Creation of a Quality City Core Fit for the 21st Century: At the heart of the vision is the objective to create a high quality and safe public realm which is attractive and effective both night and day.”
Appointed by Manchester Millennium Ltd in 1998, Martha Schwartz Inc., a USA-based international practice “at the intersection of landscape, art and urbanism”, prepared the concept design for the new 1.2 hectare Exchange Square.
Although triangular in shape (and echoing the earlier Medieval plots), Exchange Square creates two distinct levels from the available topography and extends out to the surrounding buildings. The two levels are connected by “an exuberance of ramps and stairs which become objects of both movement and stasis. These ramps act as landscape scale furniture, accommodating movement and informal seating.” In the upper level are “flush-mounted rail tracks with inset colored glass panels lit from below” marking “the historical importance of railroads in the industrial development of Manchester.” The lower level references the “historic line of Hanging Ditch” as an abstracted river with stepping stones and “at the bottom of the flume, nozzles spurt water, simulating a fast running river.”
In 2005, Martha Schwartz’s designs for Exchange Square were included in the exhibition ‘Groundswell: Constructing the Contemporary Landscape’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, a survey of the best twenty-three new urban design projects in the world.
A. Hubbard & L. Faire: ‘How Coventry Could Have Looked’ http://deanocity3.piczo.com/howcoventrycouldhavelooked?cr=5&linkvar=000044 [accessed 26.07.2011]
Architectural Design: ‘Coventry rebuilds’, Architectural Design, December 1958, pp. 483-489
D. R. Childs & D.A.C.A. Boyne: ‘Coventry’, Architects’ Journal October 1953, pp.436-439
Corporation of Coventry (1945): ‘The Future Coventry: Some Proposals and Suggestions for the Physical Reconstruction and Planning of the City of Coventry’
Esther Charlesworth: ‘Architects Without Frontiers’, 2006
George Noszlopy et al: ‘Public Sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull’, 2003
Jeffry Diefendorf: ‘Rebuilding Europe’s bombed cities’, 1990
Max Lock: ‘The revolution in town planning’, 1944, in Osborn, F.J. (ed.) ‘Planning and Reconstruction Year Book’, Todd London, 1944-45
P. Johnson-Marshall: ‘Coventry: test case for planning’, Official Architect and Planning May 1958, pp. 225-226
P. J. Larkham & J. Nasr: ‘The Rebuilding of British Cities’, 2004 http://www.lhds.bcu.ac.uk/research/pdfs/be_paper90.pdf [accessed 26.07.2011]
‘Plan for the City Centre’, The Architect and Building News 20.03.1941 http://www.historiccoventry.co.uk/articles/postwar1.php [accessed 26.07.2011]
RUDI: EDAW & Manchester Regeneration (EDAW) http://www.rudi.net/pages/17390 [accessed 26.07.2011]
RUDI: EDAW & Manchester Regeneration (EDAW) http://www.rudi.net/pages/17390 [accessed 26.07.2011]
S. A. Walford: ‘Architecture in Tension’, University of Warwick (thesis) 2009
The Builder: ‘Reconstruction of Coventry’, The Builder, 19.11.1948, pp. 590-592
[total 1765 words]
©David Patten 26.07.2011
Public Art as Big Art, the Art of Scale
In November 1943, the ‘Reconstruction and Development Committee’ of Worcester City Council appointed the ‘Commerce Department’ of Birmingham University to deliver “an Economic and Social Survey…[with] the necessary foundation of facts for reconstruction and planning in Worcester.” This ‘Economic and Social Survey’ (completed 1946) informed the ‘Outline Development Plan’ subsequently undertaken by architects [Charles] Anthony Minoprio and Hugh Spencely.
Although the Minoprio and Spencely Development Plan was never realised – both architects having moved on quickly to become Planning Consultants on Crawley New Town (‘Master Plan for Crawley New Town’ 1949) – the ‘Civic Survey’ produced by Birmingham University became a prototype for pilot enquiries for other post-War cities in the UK.
The four person team from Birmingham University included artist Walter Ritchie, who prepared the maps and charts “of his own devising” used throughout the final publication, and produced the drawings for the final chapter (‘From Survey to Redevelopment’) which “suggest and illustrate possible developments.” This was probably the first occasion an artist contributed to post-War city building at master plan level.
As noted in the published ‘County Town – A Civic Survey for the planning of Worcester’, Ritchie’s drawings were not developed further by Minoprio and Spencely, but did “illustrate principles of general application” evident in the architects’ later ‘Outline Development Plan’. For Ritchie, the experience of Worcester was devastating. Having initially been a stone mason apprentice to Eric Gill, Ritchie committed himself to a career in social and town planning following the publication of Lewis Mumford’s ‘The Culture of Cities’ in 1938 (first published in England in 1940).
“The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind.” [Lewis Mumford 1938]
Some years after the completion of the Worcester study, Ritchie commented, “Planning at this time was a form of national escapism…people enjoyed seeing pictures of urban utopias…there was too much theory and too little experience and humanity.” After this one foray into master planning, Ritchie returned to making sculpture and contributed significantly to the post-War reconstruction of Coventry during the 1950s. Walter Ritchie was not a typical artist, he resisted all enticements from Herbert Read to relocate to London (despite the promised fame and fortune associated with such a move), and took only one holiday (to the Lake District in 1957) during his life time for fear of the financial insecurity that beset his mentor, Eric Gill. From 1940, Walter Ritchie lived in the same house in Kenilworth for 57 years (he died in 1997) and had only two exhibitions during his long career as a ‘public sculptor’.
1990s & 2000s
“Maybe you think things are okay and that you are doing ‘all right’. But someday the monotonous and ugly spaces you live and work in will be organised as intelligently and as beautifully as the spaces have been in some paintings.” [Ad Reinhardt: 28th April 1946]
The architect Will Alsop describes “transforming the city (and human existence within it)” as ‘big architecture’, something that “blurs the boundaries between the discipline of designing buildings and that of planning cities” [Powell 2001]. For artists like Brunelleschi in 15th century Florence, or Walter Ritchie trying to land Mumford’s ‘The Culture of Cities’ in post-War Worcester, or Victor Pasmore in Peterlee New Town during the late 1950s, the opportunity to work at considerable scale suggests the possibilities of ‘big art’.
During the recent period of unprecedented city transformation and regeneration [1995 to 2009], though, the ‘National Lottery etc. Act’  seems to have encouraged the idea of ‘big art’ as monumental sculpture. From Antony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ [1994-98], through Jaume Plensa’s ‘Dream’ “on the site of a former slag heap alongside the M62 motorway” at St Helens [2007-09], to Mark Wallinger’s as yet unrealised winning proposal ‘Horse’ for the Ebbsfleet Landmark commission , recent public sculpture has suggested that size is important after all.
As the Daily Telegraph commented [26.08.2008]:
“…Gormley’s towering ‘Angel of the North’ sculpture has spawned a whole family of imitators in the North-East as councils attempt to regenerate their decaying constituencies with a nice piece of public art. But now the scale of public sculpture is about to be changed. …a steel monster will creep across the debris around the old Tees Dock in Middlesbrough. At 164ft, it will stand almost three times the Angel’s height and its 360ft span will stretch the length of several city streets.”
The Daily Telegraph article refers to ‘Temenos’, the first of five monumental sculptures being made by artist Anish Kapoor with engineer Cecil Balmond for the five towns in the Tees Valley in the North east of England.
Commissioned by Tees Valley Unlimited, this will be “the largest public art initiative the world has ever seen. The first installation – Temenos will be located at the north-eastern corner of Middlesbrough Dock, Middlehaven. It will cost £2.7m and will be a staggering 110m in length and almost 50m high.
Temenos is funded by government initiative The Northern Way, Regional Development Agency One North East, Homes and Communities Agency, the Arts Council England, the Northern Rock Foundation, Middlesbrough Football Club and BioRegional Quintain. Sculptures will also be installed at Stockton, Hartlepool, Darlington and Redcar and Cleveland adding up to the biggest public art project anywhere in the world” [Tees Valley Unlimited].
Daily Telegraph ‘The Angel of the North: welcome to the age of the ‘enginartist’’ 26.08.2008: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturereviews/3559171/The-Angel-of-the-North-welcome-to-the-age-of-the-enginartist.html
Daily Mail ‘Huge folly or amazing work of art? Giant 60ft head costing taxpayers £2m nears completion’ 20.04.2009:
Channel 4’s ‘Big Art Project’ :
George Noszlopy et al: ‘Public Sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull’
Ken Powell: ‘Will Alsop 1990-2000’ 2001
Tees Valley Unlimited:
Walter Ritchie Obituary, The Independent 19.02.1997:
‘Worcester city – The redevelopment plans of 1946’:
[total 1087 words]
©David Patten 26.07.2011
Public Art & Schools
Herbert Read: ‘Education Through Art’ 1943
Following on from his earlier essays, ‘Art and Industry’  and ‘Art and Society’ , in ‘Education Through Art’ [Faber & Faber, 1943] Herbert Reed proposed “that art should be the basis of education.” As well as advocating for the importance of art in education, Read emphasised the importance of the architectural environments as centres for learning.
As the later chair of the ‘Committee of Experts’ for UNESCO’s first and second conferences on art education [1946 & 1947], Read spoke of “the human need to strive toward self-realisation, of the importance of developing full human potential, the need of individuals to be active and productive, true to themselves, and to relate to others in a spirit of mutuality.” Read set out his view on the role of art in education as to:
• preserve the natural intensity of all modes of perception and sensation;
• co-ordinate the various modes of perception and sensation with one another and in relation to the environment;
• express feeling in communicable form;
• teach children how to express thought in required form.
The UNESCO report of the 1951 seminar on ‘The Visual Arts in General Education’ (Bristol, England) summarised Read’s conclusions as:
“…in order to communicate human reaction as completely as possible, it is necessary to employ not only ‘the infinite subtleties of verbal expression, but also various forms of symbolic expression’. Our educational systems have tended to ignore the various types of symbolic communication. However, we are beginning to question the adequacy of our verbal modes. The movement which has led to the liberation is beginning to recognise the fact that human beings are dependent upon symbolic as well as conceptual means of thought. Since the purpose of education is to liberate the force of spontaneous growth, and since growth is only made apparent in expression, then education is a matter of teaching children and adults how to express themselves in sounds, images, tools and utensils. In other words, ‘the aim of education is, therefore, the creation of artists – of people efficient in the various modes of expression and communication’.”
School Prints 1947 – 1949 (Picasso: “Pour les enfants anglais”)
School Prints, published in the 1940s, are now recognised as a high water mark of the post-war artistic exuberance and optimism that culminated in the Festival of Britain. In her introductory letter to artists, Brenda Rawnsley, whose idea it was, wrote “We are producing a series of auto-lithographs, four for each term, for use in schools, as a means of giving school children an understanding of contemporary art. If that somewhat ambitious aim were not to be fulfilled, the prints would in any case enliven corridor walls and bring a splash of welcome colour into dull assembly halls.”
The scheme was nurtured by the prevailing atmosphere of post-War optimism and democratic humanism: the future was what mattered, and the children in school embodied that future. The artists approached responded enthusiastically, and an impressive number of them were prepared to submit sketches to the selection committee enlisted by the tireless Mrs. Rawnsley. It was chaired by Herbert Read, and it included R.R. Tomlinson, the influential LCC Senior Inspector of Art.
The spirit which pervades the published prints is of quiet celebration: they picture a world reassuring in its familiarities; a world of everyday work and occasional festivity. It is a spirit in keeping with the general optimism of the project. … Nowhere is there any reference to the late war and its devastations. Colours are bright and cheerful.
The sheer logistics of the operation, the costly effort of distribution to over 4000 schools, finally ended the great adventure of the School Prints scheme. A further disheartening factor was the expensive flop in 1949 of the magnificent European series… Most of [these] were commissioned by Brenda Rawnsley in June 1948 during a week’s whirlwind tour of France by chartered plane…[and] secured the participation of Picasso, Leger, Dufy, Braque and Matisse, all of whom agreed to use the plastic plates specially developed by W.S Cowell in Ipswich for a payment of £200.
[summarised from Mel Gooding, Arts Review July 1980]
Post-WWII New School Building & Artist Commissioning
“English school-building…was the fullest expression of the movement for a social architecture in Britain which gathered pace in the 1930s and found its outlet in the service of the post-War welfare state. No more ambitious, disciplined, self-conscious or far-reaching application of the concept of architecture as social service can be found in any western country. [Andrew Saint: ‘Towards a Social Architecture – The Role of School Building in Post-War England’, Yale University Press, 1987]
According to Andrew Saint, a new school was completed every day between 1950 and 1970. The need for new schools was a consequence of the 1944 Education Act, which raised the school leaving age to 15 as from 1947, and the post-war baby boom of the 1950s. The scale of the building programme was outlined in the Ministry of Education’s pamphlet ‘Our Changing Schools – a Picture for Parents’ [Roger Armfelt, et al, 1950], and The New Schools Pavilion at the 1951 Festival of Britain showed “the latest tools and environment for school boys and girls to get the best out of contemporary education.”
The impetus provided by Herbert Read’s 1943 ‘Education Through Art’ and the scale of the new school building programme opened up unique opportunities for artist commissioning, from Henry Moore’s ‘Family Group’ at Barclay School in Stevenage [1945-49] and Robyn Denny’s Greater London Council-funded Abbey Wood School mosaic  to the ubiquitous Peter Peri in Leicestershire and elsewhere.
Peter Peri, born Ladislas Weisz in Budapest in 1899, was a member of the Der Sturm group of artists in Berlin , fled to England in 1933 following the changed political situation in Germany. Besides his ‘Sunbathing Horizontal Group’, commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain, Peri produced numerous sculptures and sculptural reliefs for new school buildings in London [1948 to 1950], Leciestershire [1955 to 1959], and Warwickshire [1957 to 1964].
John Berger’s description of Peter Peri at work [‘Artists and Schools’, New Statesman, 27 July 1957, Vol. 54, No. 1375, p. 81] says much of the energy of the artists commissioned to the new school building programme:
“In the past, one of the reasons why Peri has not had the success he deserves is that his work has unusually been seen…in the hedonistic atmosphere of London ‘culture’ where his cheerful lack of elegance has been mistaken for inept clumsiness. But here, his works modelled in concrete on brick walls beside a football field or a gymnasium, he comes into his own…he is not the least illustrative, and has the sculptural energy of an artist like Zadkine.”
The central character in Berger’s 1958 novel ‘A Painter of Our Time’ is based, in part, on the life of Peter Peri.
1970s to the present
As Education & Community Officer at the Whitechapel Art Gallery [appointed by Nick Serota in 1977] Martin Rewcastle initiated the 1978 ‘Artists in Schools’ conference. With funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Arts Council, the Whitechapel Art Gallery re-ignited the commissioning of artists to schools taken up later by other galleries (including Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, in 1983). Subsequently developed as ‘Creative Connections’, the Whitechapel’s ‘artist in schools’ programme aimed “to stimulate fresh approaches to teaching, learning and engaging with contemporary art in schools’ and improve “student’s visual literacy, creative skills, understanding and enjoyment of modern and contemporary art…while encouraging an increased awareness of the role of contemporary artists within society, through interaction with living artists.”
In 2002, Tony Blair’s Labour Government introduced the ‘Creative Partnerships’ scheme in response to the report “All Our Futures’ [National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Educations] which (like Herbert Read in 1943) considered that the “heavy focus on mathematics and literacy was driving out opportunities for creativity in education and that children’s creativity needed to be encouraged in order for them to be fit for the challenges of the modern world of work.” In 2004, the then Labour Government announced its ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (BSF)programme, estimated to be the single biggest government capital investment in school buildings for fifty years.
Central funding of ‘Creative Partnerships’ was cut by the Coalition Government as from the end of the academic year 2010/2011, and the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (BSF) programme was scrapped by the new Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, in July 2010. Post-BSF, the James Independent Capital Review of BSF  proposed that design of school buildings “should be based on a clear set of standardised drawings and specifications” and the “meeting of local needs.”
On the 25th July 2011, Bob and Roberta Smith (artist Patrick Brill) wrote to the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, expressing concern at the Coalition Government’s “destruction of Britain’s ability to draw, design and sing.” The letter criticised Gove’s personal sense of image and concluded that “Education is about sewing seeds not setting standards for the shape of bananas.” In this, Patrick Brill (and the many other artists who copied and sent the same letter to Gove) was expressing the very same concerns that Herbert Read had first identified in his 1943 ‘Education Through Art’.
New Schools Programme & New Schools Pavilion at the Festival of Britain:
Image Sources for BSF:
[total 1670 words]
©David Patten 26.07.2011
Artists Of Place
The exhibition ‘PLACE’ at London’s ICA in 1959 “was an early example of site-specific installation.” [Frieze Magazine]
‘PLACE’ was a collaboration between artists Robyn Denny, Richard Smith and Ralph Rumney held at the ICA in the autumn of 1959. Following on from an initial proposal by Lawrence Alloway, ‘PLACE’ comprised two parallel zig-zags of large paintings standing directly on the floor. The installation encouraged the active participation of the gallery visitor, and was understood “to act as a metaphor for a complex city environment” [Margaret Carlake: ‘Robyn Denny – Early Works 1955-1977’]. As Lawrence Alloway commented in his ‘City Notes’ (1959), “Attempts are…being made to bring within architectural reach much of the pop art that has thrived without being architectural in the qualitative sense of the word.”
At the ‘Public Art – The New Agenda’ conference (University of Westminster 1993), Jeff Kelley defined the relationship between ‘artist’ and ‘place’ as:
“A place comes into art loaded with content. An artist comes to a place in one of two ways: either loaded with content or like a clean slate, ready to receive, interpret and represent what is already there. If the former, an artist will displace the resident meanings of a place with his preconceptions about art. If the latter, she will make those meanings visible as if for the first time. In so doing, she may also make something that bears little resemblance to art… In place, artists engage meanings that may have nothing to do with art, but which are framed, proposed or clarified [as art] in the engagement. Like archaeologists, artists of place excavate the accumulated history and character of a place; like anthropologists, they study the institutions, myths and customs that characterise a place; like psychotherapists, they unlock the unconscious assumptions and forgotten secrets that keep a place’s histories and intentions hidden from public view; like witches or magicians, they invoke the rhythms and spirits of a place; like sociologists, they measure the social systems that give a place its power; and like social activists, artists of place confront the rhetorics of exclusion and power that keep certain places off limits to dissenting voices…”
Miwon Kwon in ‘Public Art as Publicity’  proposed that the “use of the word ‘place’, or rather the place of the word ‘place’…asserts two different conceptions of the public sphere. In one reading the public sphere is a place, a kind of arena or location defined by spatial boundaries with an inside that can be occupied. Public sphere is a somewhere. A second reading…invokes a possible alternative to, or a replacement for, the public sphere. ‘In the place of’ suggests that rather than an ‘inside’, we might imagine an ‘instead’ to the public sphere.”
In her seminal work, ‘One Place After Another’ (first published in October 80, Spring 1997), Miwon Kwon identifies expanded notions of ‘place’ and ‘site-specificity’ as a series of dematerializations which conclude with the idea that “the assumed uniqueness of a place is marked by the artist’s interventionary services.”
Frieze Magazine, Issue 30, September-October 1996
Miwon Kwon: ‘One Place After Another – Site-specific Art and Locational Identity’, MIT Press, 1997
Miwon Kwon: ‘Public Art as Publicity’ conference paper  and subsequently published in Simon Sheikh: ‘In the Place of the Public Sphere? On the establishment of publics and counter-publics’, Berlin: b_books, 2005
[total 511 words]
©David Patten 27.07.2011
Licking Public Art
In April 1952, the soon-to-be-crowned Princess Elizabeth invited photographer Dorothy Wilding to photograph her portrait for a new set of definitive postage stamps, now known as ‘Wildings’. Amongst the designers commissioned for the new stamps was muralist Mary Adshead, who designed the 8d magenta, 9d bronze-green, 10d blue, and 11d plum versions. The stamps remained in use until 1967 when they were replaced by new designs based on Arnold Machin’s sculpture of the Queen’s head.
During her lifetime, Mary Adshead designed a total of eight postage stamps between 1949 and 1957, and was Secretary of the Society of Mural Painters from 1953 and through the 1960s [Terry Riggs, Tate gallery, 1997].
Many artists have contributed stamp designs for the General Post Office and, now, Royal mail, including Bertram Mackennal, Eric Gill, Edward McKnight-Kauffer, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious, David Gentleman, David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake and Craigie Aitchison. [The British Postal Museum & Archive]
In 1965, artist David Gentleman wrote to Postmaster General Tony Benn requesting that the design limitations of having to include the monarch’s head on stamps be addressed. Benn, a republican, was keen to remove the monarch’s head, and saw Gentleman’s design limitations argument as an excellent – and non-political – way to achieve this objective. Despite the efforts of artist and republican, all British stamps continue to bear a picture or silhouette of the monarch somewhere on their design.
In 2010, Official War Artist and Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen proposed that portraits of those who have lost their lives during the conflict in Iraq be issued as stamps by Royal Mail.
“An official set of Royal Mail stamps struck me as an intimate but distinguished way of highlighting the sacrifice of individuals in defence of our national ideals. The stamps would focus on individual experience without euphemism. It would form an intimate reflection of national loss that would involve the families of the dead and permeate the everyday – every household and every office” [Steve McQueen]
While discussions were under way with Royal Mail, Steve made Queen and Country – a cabinet containing a series of facsimile postage sheets bearing multiple portrait heads, each one dedicated to an individual, with details of name, regiment, age and date of death printed in the margin.
The Art Fund: ‘Queen and Country’ http://www.artfund.org/queenandcountry/Queen_and_Country.html [accessed 03.08.2011]
[total 399 words]
©David Patten 27.07.2011
Public Art & Peterlee New Town
Although Harlow New Town is now known as ‘Harlow Sculpture Town’, it was Peterlee New Town that initiated two of the most extraordinary public art milestones – artist Victor Pasmore’s 1955 appointment as ‘Consulting Director of Urban Design for the South West Area’, and Stuart Brisley’s ‘Artist Project Peterlee’ in 1976.
Victor Pasmore: Consulting Director of Urban Design for the South West Area
Peterlee Development Corporation was established in 1948 under the leadership of Arthur Williams (more commonly, A. V. Williams) with architect Berthold Lubetkin appointed as architect-planner for the Peterlee New Town. Writing a year later, Lubetkin noted “In the midst of national austerity, we are going to build a new town, lock, stock and barrel.” Indeed, Peterlee New Town was always badged as “one of the jewels of the post-war settlement.”
For a variety of reasons (inappropriate designs for geologic conditions of the area, red tape and bureaucracy, sending postcards rather than attending meetings locally, etc.) Lubetkin resigned in 1950 (and, it is said, gave up architecture to raise pigs in Gloucestershire and indulge in a hefty gambling habit). On Lubetkin’s resignation, A.V. Williams took the extraordinary decision to appoint an artist to the role of Consulting Director of Urban Design.
As Richard Cork notes [in ‘Architect’s Choice – Art In Architecture In Great Britain Since 1945′] Williams’ decision “horrified” the Ministry of Housing and the RIBA who tried to overturn the appointment. Despite this, Victor Pasmore took up his post in 1955 and was given considerable freedom to collaborate with the planners and appointed architects on all stages of the New Town’s development. He was also told by A. V. Williams that “I don’t care what you do so long as it’s different – but there will be no concessions to the Ministry of Housing’s cost limits and standards.”
Although Pasmore’s scheme came under later attack (it survived only because the architect/planner Lionel Brett, later Lord Esher, wrote “a glowing report” to Dame Evelyn Sharp, the then Permanent Secretary at the Department of Housing), the results were an early marker of “the possibilities…for architect-artist collaboration over fundamentals – not simply over the decoration of wall surfaces”, as J. M. Richards put it in ‘Archiectural Review’ [May 1961]. Richards, along with Gordon Cullen, had publicly expressed the early widespread ‘disillusion and disappointment’ already commonplace with New Town developments before Pasmore’s appointment to Peterlee [‘Architectural Review’, July 1953].
Pasmore described the process [Sunderland Echo] as “a synthesis of architect and artist in which common factors…were pooled in the interests of a common end. He was clear that his contribution was as an artist and that, working alongside architects Peter Daniel and Franc Dixon, both he and they would operate as specialists, pooling ideas.” The artist was closely associated with Sunny Rise, a low-rise housing development [1964 – 1970] and the ‘Apollo Pavilion’ [1963 – 1968, originally named after the Apollo space missions but now renamed ‘Pasmore Pavilion’]. The English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest describes the scheme as a “single, integral composition” in which the “setting is largely urban, with a large playing field adjacent to the north-east, and other open spaces bounding the Sunny Blunts development to the north, west and south. To the east Blunts Dene becomes wooded, set in a steep gorge which runs into further woodland. The site is overlooked by the residential buildings of Sunny Blunts, with views of the fingers of open space with which it is integrally linked, which extend out between the groups of houses, flats and bungalows.”
With the ‘Apollo Pavilion’, Pasmore proposed “an architecture and sculpture of purely abstract form through which to walk, in which to linger and on which to play, a free and anonymous monument which, because of its independence, can lift the activity and psychology of an urban housing community on to a universal plain.” The Apollo Pavilion was originally covered in painted murals which have have recently been reinstated as part of the wider restoration programme carried out in 2008/09.
Stuart Brisley: ‘Artist Project Peterlee’
In 1974, Artist Placement Group [APG] contacted all the New Towns with the idea of placing an artist in the development process. APG had been established in 1966 by artists Barbara Steveni and John Latham with the intention of integrating artists into Britain’s government, business and corporate sectors. From a short-list of possible artists, Stuart Brisley was appointed to Peterlee New Town in July 1975 to carry out a one month feasibility study exploring the possibilities for a longer engagement.
At Kunsthalle Dusseldorf in 1970, APG had outlined its central concern that ‘context is half the work’, and this found full expression in Brisley’s observation that, “[i]n a rapidly evolving social environment where traditional value structures are changing, where the family structure itself is subject to change and transformation, it is necessary to try to develop means whereby such complex situations can be investigated and understood. The purpose of this proposal is to find the means through which to work towards a situation in which all the people in Peterlee have further opportunities to develop their own awareness of, and participation in the evolution of the community. The terms should be common, to the extent that people have access through it, and can begin to articulate their needs and expectations.”
Brisley’s ‘Artist Project Peterlee’ pursued three lines of enquiry:
1. the collection of personal experiences “to encourage the development of historical consciousness in the area, as a necessary prerequisite for an understanding of the circumstances and actions in the present and in the future”;
2. the collection and collation of materials relating to the development proposals for the New Town;
3. an open workshop “concerned with the development of historical awareness [and] the exploration of issues of current public interest and proposals for action.”
In their final report on the Project, Stuart Brisley and the Peterlee Development Corporation make a number of key comments that have informed the trajectory and concerns of public art ever since:
• an artist can be as important in building a community as an architect or planner.
• art is not confined to the formal – paintings, sculpture or even house design.
• the role of the artist is not to draw, paint or sculpt but to look [and] suggest how improvements could be brought about by using art to increase interest and involvement in what is going on.
Some fifteen years later, Patricia Phillips [in ‘Critical Issues in Public Art’ 1992] explained the importance of Stuart Brisley’s ‘Artist Project Peterlee’:
“As the texture and context of public life changes…public art must reach for new articulations and new expectations…a comprehension of value based on ideas and content rather than on lasting forms – a flexibility of procedures for making and placing art, and a more inventive and attentive critical process.”
Victor Pasmore: Peterlee New Town
Anton Ehrenzweig: ‘Victor Pasmore’s Architectural Constructions’, Quadrum, No. 4, 1957, Brussels
J. M. Richards: ‘Housing at Peterlee’, Architectural Review, May 1961
Victor Pasmore: ‘Connections Between Painting, Sculpture and Architecture’, Zodiac, No. 1, 1957, Brussels
Victor Pasmore: ‘Looking at Things with a Fresh Eye’, Sunday Telegraph, 31.12.1961
Stuart Brisley: ‘Artist Project Peterlee’
Harriet Senie (ed): ‘Critical Issues in Public Art – Content, Context and Controversy’, HarperCollins, 1992
[total 1248 words]
©David Patten 28.07.2011