Culture means whatever Brian Micklethwait says it means.  
Category Archive • Sculpture
January 12, 2005
Bridge that rolls up

Watching telly this evening I finally heard the word I needed to go a-googling after this bridge:

FoldingBridge1.jpg FoldingBridge2.jpg FoldingBridge3.jpg

Cute, yes?

Slightly bigger versions of those pictures, and a description of how it works, here.

The word I needed was Heatherwick, the name of the designer. BBC4 TV had a show about him this evening.

More recently, Heatherwick has done this. Which was unveiled this very evening, apparently.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:19 PM
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December 09, 2004
Three bears

No time for anything profound today. So instead something superficial, not to say rather sweet.

Three bears, in a playground, just south of Waterloo station, photoed by me about a fortnight ago, and kept on my hard disk for just such an eventuality, i.e. being caught short for a quick posting. (Busy day, blah blah.)

Two pics, the one on the left showing the figures a bit more clearly, the one on the right showing a little more of the surrounding context.

3bearsS.jpg  3bears2S.jpg

Don't know which is best, so there's both. Click to get either bigger.

This is all part of the welcome trend nowadays in the direction of representational realism in public sculpture. Sculptures these days, have an overwhelming tendency to be of something.

All of which reminds me that I really must get down to writing something about the obligation that so many bloggers feel to sling up any old something at least once a day, rather than just nothing. I feel this obligation myself, and when I have the time to explain why I choose to feel this feeling, I will.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:57 PM
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November 24, 2004
How much is that Predator in the window?

As regulars here will know, I am a statue-spotter. And this evening, in Oxford Street, and I chanced upon another very striking statue, in a shop window.

Here's the shop, so you can see the overall size of the thing, and how they displayed it:


Here's the entire thing itself:


And here's a close-up of its head and shoulders:


Scary, eh? And I really think that this is an original piece of art, rather than some piece of movie spin-off tat mass produced in plastic. All those chains and wheels look to me like someone here in London thought of it, and felt strongly about it.

These photos are going up here because I will shortly be doing a posting at Samizdata about these statues, of a horsey, a doggie-woggie, and two ickle pretty donkeys, which do rather suggest that this country is going soft.

This Predator statue, however, says otherwise, and I will link to this also.

As for how much it is, I didn't at the time think to ask.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:37 PM
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October 26, 2004
Statue of the Bomber – and the Bomber talking

Today I contributed to a panel discussion organised by some LSE students. On my way there, from the Temple tube station, I encountered the statue of Bomber Harris and took a photo of it. It's impressive, I think.


In general I think that all the Second World War military statues tend to be very fine, being full of individual character. Although I guess all those long dead aristocrats on horseback looked more individual to people used to the nuances of horsemanship than they do to someone like me.

While googling for Harris linkage, I found that if you click on this link you can actually hear Harris himself talking.

"There are a lot of people who say that bombing can never win a war. Well, my answer to that is that it has never been tried yet."

A scary man. The human embodiment of the whirlwind reaped by Nazi Germany.

What a difference it makes to our appreciation of the past if we can actually hear dead people talking to us. As I seem to recall writing here before, what would we not give for a similar little snatch of, say, William Shakespeare talking,

Photographing statues is a very hit or miss thing I find. The darkness of the object combined with the arbitrary shadows caste by nearby trees (especially) can obliterate the shape of the thing entirely. But this snap came out quite well, especially when you factor in that a lot of the character of these statues is in the body langauge and the way the uniform is worn rather than just in the face. And this time the trees were on my side, metaphorically speaking, because behind the statue literally.

My one hurried attempt to photograph the writing on the plinth was not such a success.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 PM
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September 25, 2004
Brickheads in Indianapolis

So I google for "news" about "art", and I find my way to immediately to this:


Fans of artist James Tyler's "Brickhead 3" sculpture, which sits in Davlan Park at 430 Massachusetts Ave., will be happy to hear that it's going to become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood.

In fact, Mayor Bart Peterson will use "Brickhead 3" as a backdrop today when he joins community arts leaders to announce that a quarter of a million dollars in new funding will be devoted to adding more public art to Indianapolis' landscape during the next two years.

Here is some more about Brickhead 3.

The mayor will make the announcement at 9:15 a.m. in the park.

In addition to the purchase of Tyler's sculpture, which is constructed of 550 handmade ceramic bricks and was installed earlier this year on a temporary basis, the money will pay for projects ranging from a series a billboards to other large-scale sculptures.

The Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission and the Arts Council of Indianapolis, which operate the city's public sculpture program, will oversee the disbursement of the new money.

Well I don't like the way all this is being paid for, but I do like the look of this particular sculpture. And what is more I agree with the artist that it represents an advance on Brickhead 2, which looks like this:


What I like about Brickhead 3 is that the head is totally realistic, not to say mundane, while the medium is obviously nonrealistic. "This is a head" collides with "Actually these are bricks". (See also this: "This is a mountain with a tree in front of it" – "Actually it's a painting".)

However, with Brickhead 2, those bobbles on its head mean that the head itself is rather sculpted. The head that the artist is representing is itself rather arty. At the very least it is somewhat exotic. And I think this works less well.

I also like that Brickhead 3 has been placed in front of a brick building. That definitely adds to the fun.

I'd like to see further and bigger Brickheads, but of celebrities. Perhaps that Mayor fancies being one.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:51 PM
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September 21, 2004
Quota kitty

Busy this evening, and up early tomorrow, assuming all goes to plan, to do an all-day-long Billion Monkeys beginners' digital camera course.


Taken at Perry de Havilland's a few weeks ago.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:33 PM
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July 31, 2004
A shadow – a bean – a photoblogging contest

Kind words from the Relaxed Homeskooler about my Education Blog, referring to this posting there.

So, kind words from me to her, about her photos. I especially liked these two.

The first is just a fun shadow. The second is not only a fun photo but a fun photo of two other things that are fun too – not that little girls in bathing costumes aren't fun, but you get my drift.

Fun thing number one is the mighty Towers of Chicago Illinois, the Birthplace of the Skyscraper.

Fun thing number two is that the mighty Towers of Chicago Illinois are not photoed direct, but rather are reflected in something called by its creator "Cloud Gate", but apparently known to all in Chicago as The Bean. I (by which I mean London) want(s) one too. It wouldn't necessarily have to be bean shaped, as per Chicago. It could be more elaborate than that. But the super-mirroredness idea is definitely one to copy. And it should be big. Like the artist says, you should be able to see the clouds in it.

You know how I feel about reflections. They are a fantastic source of fun photos, especially on a summer day, because they keep the scene with all its contrasts but moderate the strength of the light, which (like the artist says – reprise) is especially great for getting the complexities of clouds. This object gets that process a little bit organised. And think how many Billion Monkeys I could snap in one Bean photo, me included of course.

This is a perfect example of how very, very much public sculpture has improved since the meaningless lump phase of a few decades ago.

Here's another picture of The Bean. Relaxed Homeskooler concentrated on what you could see bouncing off The Bean. This photo shows you the overall shape of the thing.

I am also going to check out this photoblogging contest, and probably enter one of mine, maybe several if that's allowed. Are you also a Billion Monkey? Which are your favourites of the ones you've taken? Post at your place, and link to hers. She decides.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:11 PM
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June 30, 2004
What I like about Gormley's Angel

It's a sign of how well Anthony Gormley is doing that this exhibition is being called "… Clay from Gauguin to Gormley". This man has become a name you use to get people's attention.

Gormley hit the big time, in terms of public acclaim, with the Angel of the North:


I have been mulling over a great big posting about Gormley in general, because I think he's a very interesting artist, but for the time being I will only offer what I hope is an insight into the popularity of this one piece. (By the way, none of these photos are mine, in case you were wondering. I just picked from the many, many Angel of the North pictures you get if you google "Angel of the North".)

I don't know exactly what everyone else likes about Gormley's Angel, but I have now worked out something of what I like about it, and what it says to me. And I can at least guess at part of why it has been such a popular hit.

Most "angels" of the kind that the general public get shown (I'm thinking of the character portrayed in a recent movie by John Travolta, and before that by the angel in Barbarella played by John Philip Law I think it was) have both wings and arms, which is anatomically wrong. And that horse that you often see at the beginning of some movies has front legs as well as wings. In other words, with most angels, the wings are just bolted onto the top.

But in the real world of real biology, winged creatures of any great size have mostly had to choose. Insects, yes, they can have wings and lots of legs. But mammals, no. And Gormley's angel obeys this rule. Gorley's angel has wing, but pays the biological price.

However, the next thing to notice about the wings on the Gormley angel is that they are not bird wings, but airplane wings. These are industrial wings, rather than the sort of wings supplied by Mother Nature. And what this communicates, to me anyway, is the idea of a creature who has taken wing as a result of industrialisation, but at a price.

And the price is even heavier than that. Not only are the wings totally industrial. The very body itself, though still recognisable as a human body, has also been heavily industrialised. It's built like an iron ship, rather than out of flesh and blood. Those industrial wings have industrialised the entire person.

It's a potent image, I think. And it reconciles me to the thing which at first I thought was wrong about this Angel, which is that I at first thought it far too small. Surely, it should have been hundreds of feet tall, dwarfing the surrounding world. It should, I thought, have been put on top of that hideous multi-story carpark which is the absurd architectural summit of Newcastle's twin city across the river, Gateshead. Yet instead, there it stands, next to the huge motorway, dwarfed by the surrounding huge landscape of rural Tyneside, looking not superhuman at all.

I was thinking: angel as extraterrestrial bestower of super-power, super-blessing, or super-something. Now I see him as an angel-representative, an everyman angel, an angel who is human only more so.

This angel acts out in physical form the feeling lots of people must have about industrialisation, especially in places like Newcastle and its surroundings, which is where the Angel is to be found. It's great. It can do wonderful things. With it you can fly. But you must pay its price. And above all, it will change you. Don't think you can just stick your arms into the wings and then shrug them off when you've done your flying. You'll be stuck with them.


This is an angel who cannot now easily resume normal life, working as a keyboard pusher for the Newcastle Social Services Department, or in a colourfully humming Japanese car factory or driving a potato crisp lorry, while wearing a designer suit or designer jeans. You just can't make yourself do things like that any more. You have become something else. So Gormley's angel is impressive, but now, rather incapable. Pathetic even. An industrialised dinosaur, now utterly immobilised – crucified even – by his accursed wings.

Crucified. Yes. Jesus Christ, I only just realised that. Comes of having been a devout atheist for forty years.


Or so the Angel seems to me, now. Perhaps I am reading far more into this thing than Gormley intended, or maybe quite different things to what he intended. Although actually, not entirely. What I've just put, especially about the bodily experience the angel is undergoing, fits in well with some of the other things I'm learning about how Gormley goes about sculpting and what he reckons his own sculptures are all about. Here however, Gormley says that this is much more a superbeing who blesses, along the lines of my first (and somewhat critical) reaction. So I guess a lot of what I like about the Angel is in spite of what he reckoned he was doing.

Maybe I will get around to doing that posting about Anthony Gormley in general, called something like "Anthony Gormley and the populist retreat from abstraction", some day or some week soon. Because I do not think that it is an accident that this man has hit the jackpot of popular acclaim like no other British sculptor now alive and sculpting, nor at all surprising that he did it again with this, which accounts for the clay thing.

Meanwhile, I recommend looking at Gormley's own website and threading your way through to "FULL LIST OF WORKS". One of the secrets of Gormley's success is clear right there: it's a long list.

Anyway, more about this man later, I hope.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:17 PM
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June 18, 2004
Kings Road statues

I'm fond of these statues. I've photographed them before, and then I had time to explain them.

I particularly like the way that the very human girl sits in such a totally abstract and non-human setting. This emphasises her humanness. And this particular angle of her adds to the effect with more rectangularity.


And here is her companion.


I like the accident of, on our right, the lady walking behind him so determinedly. She, by contrast, emphasises the statue's statueness.

That's one of the particular pleasures of my kind of photography. I aim at one thing, and with any luck I get it. But with more luck, I get other things too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:37 PM
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June 16, 2004
Waterloo elephant

Once again, no time for anything properly thought out. But I snapped this remarkable beast today, at the top of the stairs down to the Jubilee Line at Waterloo. I've tried to photo this thing a number of times, and they never get much better.


The redness of the elephant is not painted on. It's done with lighting. The thing itself is made of grey gauzey material.

Hey! Guess what! I found another picture of it. On the Internet! Here. See what I mean. It's grey.

The same guy also supplies this link to a pavement artist.

And he likes the Gherkin too. But then, doesn't everybody.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:53 PM
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June 13, 2004
Friend – sculpture – sunset – bridge

No time for anything serious. So two quota photas, both taken during a walk on the south side of the Thames a few weeks ago, with a friend.




Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:56 PM
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June 04, 2004
The Dog Woman and her Puppy Babies are not The Painted Word

Shock art, yes, but rather entertaining:


This was hit number one when I googled for "art" images twenty minutes ago.

The picture appears at the top of a review of a book called What's Wrong With Contemporary Art?.

So far as I can judge by only reading this review, Peter Timms' book has been done a long time ago and done far better, by Tom Wolfe, in the form of The Painted Word, at a time when what it says was actually pretty much true. But things have moved on since the tendencies which Wolfe reported on so accurately and which Timms says are still in play.

Modern Art is no longer a bad university lecture, with mysteriously expensive illustrations slapped onto the front of the enterprise. It has now morphed into something more like a self-important and rather (but not always) humour-lacking branch of the circus business, with things which are quite entertaining (like the Dog Woman and her brood of Human Puppies above) being either arbitrarily dismissed to car boot sale land, or alternatively lauded to the skies with absurdly earnest and excessive praise.

I wouldn't have the Dog Woman and Her Puppy Babies in my living room if you paid me, a lot, any more than I would want to share my life with a circus clown. But seeing it once, in a picture, was … fun.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:49 PM
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December 08, 2003
Snow sculpture

The unignorable (I put that so I didn't have to start this sentence with a small letter) link to some pages of snow sculptures. This is one of my favourites:


One of the many huge boons bestowed upon us by photography is that inherently ephemeral objects such as snow sculptures can live on permanently in our affections. When we can take ten snaps from different directions, feed them all into our PC, and crank out a 3D image in some form, such as a view of the thing on our screens that we can virtually walk around and in among, if you get my drift (hah! - snow, drift), then snow sculpture will become even more productive as a means of entertainment and spiritual uplift.

Probably this is already possible. When I say "we", I mean when we all do it because it is so cheap and so easy and so routine, and our computer savvier mates can tell us how to do it. And when even I know how to do it.

On the basis of such records, maybe the best snow sculptures could be recreated in more durable materials. In icing sugar, for example.

I once did a snow sculpture myself, when I was at school. There was for a House Exhibition" in which the creative and showy offy among us showed off our various creations, and it coincided with some snow and and with enough coldness to allow snow sculpture to last a bit. So in the courtyard outside the main indoor exhibition area (the house dining hall), and clearly visible from inside, I did a reclining man.

My collaborator in art was, to begin with, a member of the Keynes clan by the name of Randall. He wanted us to do a fake Henry Moore, with a hole where the man's stomach should have been. I vetoed this as pretentious and stupid. I knew even then that a genuine and serious effort to get the man looking right was better by far than some ironically distanced knock-off of someone else's hard won discoveries about the sculpting of the human form. Randall Keynes resigned from the project. Good riddance. I finished it on my own.

Somewhere, I think I even have a photo of this effort.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:03 PM
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December 06, 2003
Will this increase my traffic?

Another Dave Barry find. There's something, he says, very troubling about this:


I'll say.

This specially designed mannequin is made of "fiber glass," a special form of plastic that features light weight and durable use. It comes with a shiny metal base. (Metal base is taped at the bottom of the box under a piece of cardboard, near the rod that is taped to one corner of the box.) It is very detailed, with human hair eyelashes. With detachable hands, arms, left leg, and upper body, it is easy to set up and dress. Lovely and unique, this mannequin will easily attract attention. If displayed in your store front, it will certainly increase traffic in your store.

Shock/conceptual/post-modern/whatever art meets retailing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:47 PM
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November 30, 2003
Workers of the world - hold that pose!

I must say, I do like this kind of thing. The USSR did fighting okay. And if it never managed to make industry work properly for real, except quite well during the war, it wasn't for want of wanting.


I think it is in St Petersburg. Wherever it is, nice sky. I got to it because the people who took this picture also took this one of a bridge, and I found the bridge, like the one below, here .

In the same series of pictures, just before the statues of these soldiers and workers, there's a statue of Lenin looking visionary and windswept. I hope plenty of these things survive. He was a total bastard, but those total bastard Bolsheviks sure knew how to bully painters and sculptors. The total bastard bolsheviks entirely deserve their places in history's dustbin, but I do hope that a decent number of their absurdly souped-up likenesses are spared.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:04 PM
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November 03, 2003
Concorde again

David Farrer has this picture of Concorde up at Freedom and Whisky, taken at Edinburch airport. I'm guessing he took it himself but he doesn't say.


I believe I may have improved its presentation. He has it up as a .bmp, and on my screen it has bumpy things happening at the join between the fuselage and the sky. Also it takes a long time to load, because he had it as a rather big file. On my screen - and maybe yours? - this now looks better. If you want a/the bigger version of this picture, do what I did and copy it from David.

The earlier Concorde picture here showed the shape from below. This is the best I've seen lately of its beak.

Antoine Clarke gave an excellent talk at my place last Friday evening about Concorde, and about the contrasting attitudes of Britain and France to its demise. Basically, British Airways made a success of running it, if you exclude the small matter of how much it cost to build the damn thing! So we mourned and celebrated. Air France couldn't even do that, and were glad to see it go. And France didn't mourn or celebrate, other than giving a media nod to all the mourning and celebrating going on in Britain.

Which is odd, because usually the French State is quite good at these money-no-object flag-waving ikon things, while here in Britain we tend to screw them up.

Although, British Airways also owns London's Wheel (of the "London Eye" as they insist on calling it) and that looks great and works well too.

It's obvious really. Give The Dome to British Airways too. They obviously have the magic touch with these things. After all, for many decades they themselves were one of "these things". Turning national monuments into profitable national monuments is what they do, because when they were privatised they started by doing this to themselves.

This will have to mentioned also at Transport Blog.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:32 PM
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October 24, 2003
Farewell to Concorde

Today Concorde flies for the last time, in England, I think. I really can't tell exactly what's happening today, which is being called a "celebration". Will the French be flying theirs some more? Will there be further celebrations? Will Richard Branson buy one and use it for holiday outings and to annoy British Airways, which he likes to do? Don't know, don't care. All that matters to me is that the serious flying career is ending, some time around now, of one of the most beautiful objects ever to take to the skies. I will almost certainly neither hear it or see it ever again.

Really good photos of the big bird are surprisingly hard to come by on the internet, although there are dull ones in abundance, mostly of one of them on the ground, or taking off which is impressive I do agree.

I like this photo because it shows Concorde as I saw it, from below, and dwarfed by the sky which it still dominates aesthetically. It captures the shape of the whole thing, whereas many of the pictures seem to focus in on close-up detail, like that extraordinary dipping beak, or the strangely thick neck, or those downward sloping wings as seen from head on.


The ideal Concorde photo, for me, would have a vast and mundane London roofscape, with Concorde itself only a tiny fragment of faraway beauty in the sky. I might have taken such a photo myself, but I never got around to it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:39 PM
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October 15, 2003
On bad old art, art (by William Blake) which works better as artwork, and inner light

Alan Little went to an art exhibition today. Well, actually it was on the twelfth. He emailed me about this, and if only to encourage others to email me about matters cultural that they've written about, I duly link. Apologies for the delay.

I found this paragraph to be the one that really intrigued:

Also striking was how much better and more interesting the "modern art" (for want of a better term for the art of the first half of the last century – there was very little on display that was less than about forty years old) was than the older stuff. People who dismiss modern art can’t, I conclude, have spent much time looking at eighteenth and early nineteenth century European art, most of which is hideous. I doubt if even Damien Hirst or Tracy Emin has ever produced anything as ugly and ridiculous as a sparkly porcelain bundle of asparagus.

I had a similar albeit not identical reaction when I went round the non-modern English stuff in the Tate, being struck by how bad I thought the worst of it was, how feeble, how small, and how much more exciting and shiny and "sparkly" (to echo Alan's phrase) the very same things looked in some of the book and magazine reproductions of them I'd seen. In particular, many of the William Blake pictures looked like they'd been dashed off on the backs of envelopes, which for all I know they may well have been. And he's supposed to be really good.

It's a change of subject, away from the badness of Ancient Art, because actually I don't think that Blake was an "artist" at all, in the orthodox sense that his pictures are at their best when you view the original artwork itself. Those originals are just that, artwork. They are instructions to a printer, and once the printer has got to work, they can actually look better than those originals. I'm not saying that they actually were instructions to a printer when he did them. I do not know, and would welcome education by comment, as often happens to me here. But I do say that this is how I think they work best. For me.

William Blake's pictures also work very well on a half-decent computer screen, I think. Maybe that's because a computer screen supplies an internal light source, which many of Blake's pictures cry out for, but which in the original they just do not have. Also, the originals are absurdly small, compared to, say, the big shiny posters that are made from them.

Talking of inner light sources takes me back to the Italian Renaissance, where, although they didn't literally have electric lights behind their paintings, they were masters at making it look as if they did.

I did a posting a while ago on Samizdata about a really interesting invention, which was basically a computer screen which did not have a light source behind it or otherwise built into it, and which only reflected light off its surface. It behaves exactly like a regular printed photograph or a painting, in other words. That'll be an interesting development, assuming it develops.

In general, when I go around a really big and famous art gallery, with lots of pictures from all the different art eras, I'm struck by how fabulous the very first oil paintings often were, compared to a lot of the later ones. Those first great renaissance set piece religious paintings were like Hollywood epics, and it can't be an accident that when movies first arrived at their technical peak, a lot of movies looked like renaissance paintings, and I don't just mean the Biblical epics. It's as if those first few generations of painters just exulted at what was suddenly possible, and maybe also suddenly allowed, the way only movie makers do now. And it occurs to me that the Bright Shining Dawn of movie making has maybe now, on the whole, drawn to a close. Or maybe it's me, and I'm getting old and am not myself dazzled by the sheer look of movies any more. And my impression of the Renaissance upstaging the later stuff may merely reflect either that this particular art gallery had better Renaissance stuff than later stuff, or that there was just as much good stuff done later, but a lot more bad stuff. Which I would suppose is the truth.

As for the general run of bad Ancient Art, I agree with Alan that there's tons and tons of rubbish out there, not involving the twentieth century at all.

A bit of a ramble, I fear, and no doubt hideously misinformed. Oh well. I'll learn.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:43 PM
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October 01, 2003
Lynn Chadwick beats Bridget Riley

Like Alice Bachini, with whom I saw them last Sunday, I liked the sculptures by Lynn Chadwick at the Tate. I preferred the semi-representational ones that were definitely people to the more famous ones, i.e. the ones I've seen a couple of before, that look a bit like birds but basically lilke weird things with messy horizontal heads.

chadwic2.jpg    riley1.jpg

This one on the left is the best Chadwick picture I could find on the Internet, which I got from here.

After Alice had gone I paid £8.50 to see the Bridget Riley exhibition, i.e. all the stuff done by the woman who did the one on the right, above. Seeing the originals adds nothing to seeing decent copies, except the knowledge that seeing the originals adds nothing to seeing decent copies, which is, I suppose, something. The paintings of Bridget Riley are artwork for the printer, presented as if they were regular paintings, and although I like them a lot, I'd already seen them all, in perfectly satisfactory printouts thank you.

Some of the pictures are like those bits of artwork they have in magazines to show you how the eye can sometimes be deceived, into seeing colours that aren't there, and into seeing diagonals which are really upright, and so on. Some of them look like that new flag someone has designed for the EU, like a multicoloured barcode. They aren't unpleasant. Many are very pretty. And if you do the same artistic thing for about four decades, it will have its own kind of single-minded impressiveness. But … the Chadwicks were much better to actually see in the flesh, I thought. The Chadwicks are still there, unlike the Rileys which finished on Sunday, and viewing the Chadwicks costs nothing.

My favourite Chadwicks, and I couldn't find a photo of these, were three ladies with shiny golden triangular flat faces, and with shiny golden rectangles of accurately done bosoms and bellies on the front of otherwise very sculptural and black and abstract figures. It was as if they had a window on their fronts instead of clothes.

If Chadwick's reputation had taken a slightly different turn, things like these, only smaller (as some of the Chadwicks themselves are - as Alice explains) could easily be the stuff of car boot sales, with the art critics all sneering away at their crass popular appeal and shameless playing-to-the-gallery quality, what with the nicest of them so clearly being of something.

If they were at a car boot sale, would I have liked them so much? Probably not. At the Tate the Chadwicks are keeping out stuff that would almost certainly have been far worse, whereas there's usually fun stuff at car boot sales, if you look. At a car boot sale I would have said: these are okay. At the Tate I said: Hey! These are okay! With modern art, you are grateful for small mercies.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:30 AM
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September 28, 2003
Frodo and David

This is a picture I should have added to the earlier posting about Michelangelo's David. It's … well, you know exactly what it is. It's Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, as enacted by Elijah Wood.

frododav.jpg      mdavidsm.gif

Alice Bachini has dropped by, and she says that what these faces both communicate is that courage is not not feeling fear, but rather feeling intense fear but nevertheless dealing with it, courageously. We all expect that of little teenage Frodo, but that's what I also saw in David. Plus, they have extremely similar faces, I think.

To begin with, this posting will only have the one picture, of Frodo. When someone has taught me how to put two pictures next to each other, there'll be Frodo and David.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:38 PM
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September 26, 2003
The face of David

Blatant quota posting. Great art. If it's great art, all is excused.


Of course I've heard of this sculpture, Michelangelo's David, although I did have to check with a friend that this was it. I've never really looked at David's face before. He looks so young, and so anxious. As you would if you were squaring up to Goliath. His body, which is all that you mostly register from the pictures of this famous piece, is casual confident. But this face, close to, with its creased up forehead, is downright scared.

I like it. Well done, Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564).

And did you know that the year Michelangelo died was the year Shakespeare was born. How about that?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:53 PM
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June 19, 2003
Keeping Barbara Hepworth in her place

Last night I watched a TV programme (On BBC1) about the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, the best little clutch of photos of her work that I could find quickly being this one.

I enjoyed myself. We got the family history, the marriages and the divorces, the children (including – get this – triplets!!!), and lots of pictures of the sculptures and of Dame Barbara sculpting them. What a feisty old Dame – stubborn, deadly serious, and amazingly productive, decade after decade. I enjoyed the pictures of the sculptures, several of which I must myself have seen for real.

And then there were the photos, of Hepworth and her artist friends lolling about by the sea, discussing Socialism. She did some interesting pictures of National Health Service doctors doing an operation (and you got the impression that she valued their masked, and thus "faceless" quality, which turned them from individuals into a collective archetype).

Barbara Hepworth's early "inspiration" and "passion", of which much was made by compere Alan Yentob, was landscape and seaside rocks and pebbles. In Hepworth's hands this sometimes merged into forms suggestive also of human figures. Later she played about with colour, and her creations started to have insides and outsides, in different colours. Holes started to go through them. Strings like the strings of a harp or a piano join up bits of them. All very pleasing to look at, in a harmless, make-what-you-like-of-it kind of way.

And then they showed a picture of a big Barbara Hepworth outside the United Nations building in New York.

Whoooaaaarrrggghhh!!! A spasm of rage suddenly engulfed your blogger. The sneaky, mad, batty old bitch has seduced me into a state of neutrality concerning the public, abstract "sculpture" of the 1950 to 1980 era, which is one of the most horrible art atrocities of my lifetime.

You know the kind of rubbish I'm talking about. Huge dull skyscraper, with large, dull square in front of it, park benches to sit on if you're lucky, rubbish blowing about in the crazy breezes caused by the skyscraper, and plonked down in the middle of the square: a meaningless, far-too-big-to-ignore piece of bullshit "sculpture" that looks like it was helicoptered in by an evil cosmic prankster in the dead of night, and they haven't yet taken it away because it will cost a fortune to do that and they haven't yet worked out who has to do it.

What was happeningto me? I had been transformed by one dim old photograph from a maiden aunt nodding benignly at how "interesting" it all looked, into a Daily Mail reader, drunk at the wheel of a Ford Transit loaded with dynamite. Ease up Brian. Relax. It's only Modern Art. Don't get so angry. You're only Playing Into Their Hands.

Why was I so contentedly relaxed about small Hepworths in little art galleries or gardens, but driven crazy by big ones in front of famous skyscrapers?

It was because small Hepworths in galleries are in their proper place in the world, but big Hepworth's in city squares are not just getting above themselves, they are also getting in the way of something better.

There is something very ridiculous about Barbara Hepworth, and her "inspiration" and her "passion". Basically, what she spent her life doing, with huge labour, was doing something that for humans is immensely hard work, but which Mother Nature does without trying. I mean, seriously, what the hell is the point of making hundreds of bits of stuff "inspired" by the things that the sea does to stone? Surely the logical thing to do if this "inspires" you is to take photos, or go on walks and look at it all. But a life-time of making giant pebbles? Smacking away with your chisel at big lumps of stone for man-years on end, to create effects that the Atlantic Ocean can do without even being alive? This really is a human doing what humans are not built for. This is playing from weakness. This is us at our daftest.

Put it this way. Suppose that you observed not the sea shaping stone, but, say, some elephants manipulating some huge bits of wood, doing what they do best, which is move things about with their amazing, elongated noses. Suppose that this "inspired" you. Would it really make sense for you then to spend the rest of your life copying the elephants by pushing things about with your nose? Or perhaps by heaving bits of timber about with your arms, on account of your nose being so unsuited? You're never going to beat the elephants, any more than Barbara Hepworth is going to beat the sea.

When Hepworth sells one of her giant pebbles to someone who likes it and reckons it to be art, and who puts it in an art gallery for others who like the look of giant pebbles to come an gaze at, well, I've no problem with that. Hepworth's objects are an excellent example of something I've already written about here, namely "art", which if it hadn't been called art, would cause no annoyance whatever. Who could possibly object to a big pebble?

But when you take one of these giant I-wonder-what-that-is things and stick it in a serious, much populated urban public space, my patience suddenly snaps. Now, suddenly, I am being asked to take this giant piece of bric-a-brac seriously, and agree that it signifies something profound, something as profound as those "passions" that were swirling about inside poor old Barbara Hepworth's brain while she was carving the damn thing and making the surface go this way or that way for who the hell knows what reason. Now the lack of any shared or sharable meaning ceases to be quaintly picturesque, and becomes actively and intrusively offensive.

When I was a child, we used to go by car to Monmouthshire to visit the grandmother, who lived in a mini stately home. One of the highlights of the journey, if we went through the town of Monmouth itself, was to observe the statue of the great aviator and car salesman Charles Rolls in the town centre, holding up a model biplane. Now that was a statue. That meant something. Later I got to know the statues of London, my favourites being the ones outside the old War Office of Montgomery, Brooke and Slim, Britain's leading World War II soldiers.

Imagine the stink if any of these were taken away, and replaced by half a a ton of random Hepworth. Well, that's pretty much what did happen in the space outside the UN building.

Personally I despise the UN, but I'll agree that it is at least trying, approximately speaking, to do something important. Like the Hepworth object in front of it, it is occupying an important space in the world. So why was I so angry? Isn't a meaningless piece of junk in front of it just what I would have wanted in front of this vile operation? Well, yes, indeed. But what I was cursing wasn't that particular sculpture, so much as all the bits of junk in cities everywhere, where real sculptures (or real somethings) should have been instead. There could have been something that celebrated qualities or aspirations or achievements in a way that was clearly expressed and plainly visible – instead of just a blob of the silly and utterly uncommunicated "passions" of some stubborn old git like Barbara bloody Hepworth.

Happily, a happy ending to this story is even now unfolding. The meaningless lump style of sculpture has not been utterly defeated, but it has been driven out of these significant public spaces, back into the art galleries and gardens where it belongs, where it can be communed with by those who like that sort of thing but where it won't annoy the rest of us.

We are, in Britain, just at the beginning of a new golden age of public sculpture, heralded by the Angel of the North. This, to me, somewhat half-hearted figure has revealed, by the mere fact of its public existence, a huge fan base for public sculpture that is of something, that really says something and celebrates something, in this case, presumably, the rise of a new North of England from the rust and dust and mud of the old. The happy hubbub of talk that surrounds this somewhat banal but nevertheless appealing little figure, stuck up above the A1 just south of Gateshead, is in extreme contrast to the bitter and angry public silence by which all those Hepworth-style blobs were surrounded by when they were unveiled. And just like the architects before them, the sculptors have decided which response they prefer, and are lunging for public glory. Good for them.

Meanwhile, other lesser but still very appealing statues that actually communicate are popping up everywhere.

Thinking about this Hepworth business has told me is something that I hadn't quite grasped until now, which is that "Modern Art" is already in retreat. The meaningless lump style still dominates great swathes of "art", in the galleries, alongside the more recent and equally meaningless "hey! – take a look at what I just found" style. But it has been banished from real life. Now real life is elbowing its way back into the galleries.

For years I have longed to sink Modern Art with one killer phrase, like the Bismarck sinking the Hood. One day, I dreamed to myself, I would craft a meme as deadly as Tom Wolfe's "The Painted Word". Now I am starting to feel twinges of the magnanimity that accompanies victory.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:47 PM
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May 19, 2003
For those who think that modern sculpture ought all to be blown up …

… there is this:


I love it. The boundary between art and fairground entertainment can't be too blurred, I say.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:30 PM
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April 29, 2003
Statues – right shapes but wrong colours

In about 1970 the western world endured a fashion for erecting meaningless lumps of metal and stone, known to their perpetrators as "scupture" and to everybody else as: "What the hell is that bloody thing? Take it away at once."

This fad is now mercifully drawing to a close, and public statuary that is actually of somebody is back in business again.

I took the picture below on a recent trip to Bratislava. Similarly entertaining objects are now appearing in London, where I recently observed what looked like a leprechaun leapfrogging over a bollard just outside Bond Street Tube Station. And, in the posh clothes selling bit of London just south of Picadilly, I spotted not long ago a recently erected statute of Beau Brummel, no less, looking very dapper.


For an anonymous made-up character like the one above, plain bronze is probably sufficient, but why do all outdoor statues have to be drearily monochrome, with the shape right, but the colour merely the colour of bronze, or whatever it is?

I was provoked into asking this here by a fleeting TV glimpse of a statue of the late Leeds United soccer player Billy Bremner which now stands outside the Leeds ground.


From my little TV glimpse I thought that this time some attempt has been made to get the colour looking right. Bremner's upper right thigh certainly looks thigh-coloured rather than merely metal coloured. Sadly, the dark looking face suggests otherwise.

I wonder why more effort is not made to make statues realistic in colour as well as shape. Here, for example, is a recently unveiled statue of four of the England 1966 World Cup winning side, done in the usual solemn and "historic" monochrome. Do things have to be done this way, still?

Beau Brummel in particular would look a lot finer if justice had been done to the real look of the man, and of his famed attire.

Madame Tussaud's does better indoors. Why can't something similar be done outdoors? Is it just too difficult? Or is it assumed that monochromatic bronze is what a statue is just dumb, plain supposed to be made of?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:48 PM
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April 06, 2003
The Kiss is not just The Kiss

Natalie Solent links to this piece, about (a) an artist who has wrapped Rodin's The Kiss in string, and about (b) some other person who has taken a pair of scissors to the string in defence of the original sculpture.

I find the strung version of the Rodin quite appealing and vivid, as a message about how romantic love can enmesh you in a disfunctional relationship. I dare say Alice Bachini would also approve, because this is the kind of thing she also says.

But notice how the tables are turning. The Establishment Artist is the one doing prankish and studenty things to the Great Masterpiece, and the Anti-Establishment Rebel is the one trying to undo them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:43 PM
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