Discovering arresting art doesn’t always mean standing in line at the museum. Some of the best art by renowned artists past and present are available to all, for free and without the crowds. Streets worldwide are adorned with public art, many are ridiculed and dejected, most are prefixed with notoriety but a select few embellish their surroundings through storytelling or in-the-moment interactivity. Here are 10 pieces worth seeking out.
10. Angel of the North by Anthony Gormley (Gateshead, England, 1998)
This russet-winged figure surveys the North of England like an Orwellian Christ the Redeemer guarding our industrial heritage. Easily one of Britain’s most well-known works of public art and very much worth a visit to see the presence the Angel has, even if it is from the A1 like the other 90,000 who past it daily.
9. Mount Rushmore by Gutzon Borglum and Lincoln Borglum (Keystone, South Dakota, US, 1927-41)
Hewn and blasted out of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the scale and ambition of this sculpture is second to none. The four granite presidential heads show precision of form, especially the skilled visualisation of Roosevelt’s glasses and Washington’s collar. Another sublime example where successes of the past are immortalised in the drama of the present landscape.
8. Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor (Millennium Park, Chicago, 2004)
Unfairly criticized at first, this liquid mercury-inspired bean has quickly seeped into and warmed the hearts of visitors and locals alike. An elliptical sculpture made from a series of highly polished stainless steel plates that allow the work a multitude of functions: it reflects Chicago’s skyline, lightening the stolid skyscraper horizon, whilst the playful mirrored chamber lets people interact and see themselves and others from different perspectives.
7. Digital Orca by Douglas Coupland (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 2010)
This über modern sculpture swiftly sparked reaction and has fondly been monikered ‘Lego Orca’ and ‘Pixel Whale’. Forged from powdered coated steel cubes, Coupland deftly captures a leaping Orca while its pixelated appearance comments both on the natural supremacy of the harbour where it sits and the technological advances shaping the region.
6. Rabbit by Jeff Koons (1986)
Koons’ art is perfectly suited to the public realm. His reworking of kitsch everyday objects wittily merges high and low culture and with help from the finest artisans he’s made tacky desirable and his trademark. A temporary work once revealed bobbing along Manhattan’s gorge-like streets, ‘Rabbit’ succeeds in being both credible and accessible: the whimsical child toy a comment on the spiraling consumerism of the decade. Koon’s influence on the art world in the 80s and 90s is unmatched.
5. Christ the Redeemer created by Paul Landowski, built by Heitor da Silva Costa (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1931)
Perched at the peak of Corcovado mountain, is a sculpture of hyperboles. Engineered from reinforced concrete and soapstone the figure is the largest Art Deco sculpture in the world and fifth biggest statue of Jesus. However, it is not just its size worth meriting but Landowski’s ability to create an iconic emblem that holds power among the verdant hills and seascape of the city where it could easily be lost.
4. Wrapped Reichstag by Christo and Jean Claude (Berlin, Germany, 1995)
The temporary wrapping of the German parliament building demonstrated how a conceptual artist of Christo and Jean’s calibre can create an awesome public art spectacle and more than that – a cultural event. The covering revealed the building’s underlying true form; the billowing aluminium-coloured fabric transformed the indestructible 1930s Third Reich architecture into something ethereal and a celebratory symbol of new Germany.
3. Balzac by Rodin (Boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris, France)
The immediacy and raw treatment of this figure of French novelist, Honoré de Balzac, is what makes this sculpture so alluring. From afar it holds a phallic shape; up close you can feel the speed and dexterity of the sculptor where Rodin has thumbed the clay into a modern masterpiece. This is 20th Century impressionism in 3D.
2. Maman by Louise Bourgeois (Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden from January 2015)
A motif for all things maternal, this nine-metre spider teeters on eight slim steel legs allowing the viewer to pick their way around and beneath its martian frame. Under the body a cluster of 26 marble eggs reinforce the notion of nature and protection. An ode to Bourgeois’ mother, a weaver, the arachnid demonstrates how the personal can resonate in all. Originally open to all at the Tate Gallery Hall in 2000, it can now be seen in Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
1. Burghers of Calais by Rodin (Westminster, London, UK, 1889)
A virtuosity of human form, Rodin again manages to express the fragility of the human condition in the hardest of mediums: dark bronze. Commemorating an episode in the 100 Years War between England and France, the six surrendering figures with their oversized bare feet, tattered robes and rope-bound necks express individual emotions of pain, melancholy and pathos of their self-sacrifice. Posed with eyes half closed, hands grasping heads or simply staring at the earth the figures invite the viewer to circle the monument, as if bystanders to the event. ‘The Burghers of Calais’ affirms how Rodin evolved the lone static statue into sculptural storytelling.
Luke Webb, Sarah Kiernan
Copyright 2015 Offbeat Creations Limited