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Sarah Lucas. Kevin, 2013. Bronze 150 x 460 x 135 cm © Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sotheby’s and Sadie Coles HQ, London

Highlights of the ‘Sculpture in the City’ project in London 0

Q&A with Co-Director Stella Ioannou

Sculpture in the City
London, England
Through May, 2017

Sculpture in the City is a project that has, in a sense, become a traditional part of summer in London. Organized by the City of London, this is already the sixth year in which contemporary artworks are being exhibited in rather unusual places throughout the city. This year, however, stands out with a scope that has been heretofore unseen – a whole 15 objets d’art have been set up in the urban environment, and not just anywhere, either – each one is being exhibited adjacent to an iconic architectural structure. For example, a seven-meter-high installation by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa faces Norman Foster’s “Gherkin”, while Anthony Caro’s bright-red, six-ton sculpture engages in a visual dialog with the Lloyd’s building designed by Richard Rogers. Among the featured artists are both internationally recognized names, as well as relative newcomers.

Huma Bhabha. The Orientalist, 2007. Bronze, 180 x 84.5 x 112 cm. Courtesy of Stephen Friedman sat down for a quick Q&A with the project’s co-director, Stella Ioannou.

What principles do you follow when looking for suitable places in which to exhibit the artworks?

The most important part of the process is meeting each artist (or their gallerist) individually, to scout out the area and find the site (or sites) in which they would be happy to see their particular work shown. Then there is another layer consisting of logistics and landowner approvals, which need to be negotiated. 

This is where the project (almost) curates itself. As the majority of the works we show are already made, it is imperative for us that the artists are involved on site to ensure that the works are shown in the best possible way. 

Jaume Plensa. Laura, 2013. Cast iron 702.9 x 86.4 x 261 cm. Photo: Kenneth Tamaka

Public space is more open and accessible to a potential audience than an indoor venue. The Sculpture in the City project will be seen by a wider range of the public than just the contemporary art audience. How does that influence your curatorial perspective?

The space in which Sculpture in the City is presented is by far one of the most unique urban environments, and in many ways dictates how the works are shown. We have more constraints than in a normal gallery, and many more factors which need to be taken into consideration, for example, the safety of the audience. The area is also changing, which means that year on year we have different sites to use. The works will also dictate where they need to go, whether that means the scale of the work or the more practical side of things, like the weight of the work. 

Matt Collishaw. Magic Lantern Small (Detail), 2010. Steel frame, glass, two-way mirror, aluminium, LED lights and motor, 235 x 114 x 114 cm. Courtesy of Blain | Southern

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How are the artists usually selected for this project?

We make an open call for submissions, and our very experienced Arts Advisory Board – made up of Iwona Blazwick at Whitechapel (only a ten-minute walk from our site); Jane Alison at the Barbican (a 20-minute walk from our site); Robert Hiscox at Hiscox (one of our partners and an arts patron in his own right); Stephen Feeke, co-director at NewArtCentre Roche Court; and Wendy Fisher (public art patron) – select a shortlist which we then work through. This year we had a shortlist of 33 artworks from a submission of over 120, and we are showing 17 artists in 20 locations. 

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Recycle Group. Untitled (TBC), 2014 – 2015. Plastic Mesh, 300 x 500 cm / 650 x 300 cm. Courtesy of Recycle Group

Were there any other conditions that artists had to take into account when creating their work?

The works we display are usually preexisting. On a small number of occasions, the artists selected have made new works for us to fit the site selected. This year the young duo called Recycle made a new dome of “Falling into Virtual Reality” for their selected site in Leadenhall Market. Another work we are showing this year, “Broken Pillar #12”, by Shan Hur, was made specifically for the Great St. Helen’s churchyard. 

The fact that the work is displayed outside means that it needs to be weather-proof and sturdy. 

Anthony Caro. Aurora, 2000/2003. Steel, painted red, 265 x 523 x 308 cm. Photo: John Riddy

What is this year’s “common feeling in sculpture”?

To date we have not had a specific theme, though the display space, by definition, dictates the need for large-scale works. The public spaces where we display the works sit at the bottom of towers up to 56 stories high, and they can also be next to 15th-century churches. As the project has grown over the last six years, we have been able to work with both very large-scale works, as well as more human-sized and small-scale ones. This year our tallest work is nine meters tall, and our smallest is just 37 cm long. Color also plays a significant role, with Anthony Caro’s “Aurora” and Jürgen Partenheimer’s “Axis Mundi” really standing out in an area dominated by steel and glass. 

In addition, this year the selection has a couple of themes running through it, such as figurative works (“Laura” by Jaume Plensa, “Of Saints and Sailors” by Benedetto Pietromarchi, and “Untitled” by Enrico David), works made with found objects (“Aurora” by Anthony Caro, “Centaurus” by Michael Lyons, and Benedetto Pietromarchi’s sailors), and spirituality (“Axis Mundi” by Jürgen Partenheimer, and “Solar Relay” by Petroc Sesti).

Could you give us five highlights of the artworks that can be seen in the Sculpture in the City project ?

It’s very difficult for me to pick highlights as I’ve been so heavily involved in the placement of each individual work, and I still get excited seeing each work on site. I’d say that Giuseppe Penone’s “Idee di Pietra - 1372 kg di Luce” fits so perfectly where it is – you only realize it’s not a real tree when you see the big boulders and register that they wouldn’t be on a real tree. Even the height is almost the exact same height as the tree by the church next to it. 

Going from the very tall, nine-meter-high Penone, we come to Lizi Sanchez’s “Cadeneta”, which are our smallest works this year at only 37 cm long; Sanchez has created them as a series of works, and we are showing them in four different locations. The idea behind the works, i.e., the leftovers from a party, is one which I find particularly appealing, as is the opportunity for us to have a trail within the project. You also need to look up to see them!

Ugo Rondinone. SUNRISE. east. july, 2005. Cast Bronze, silver car paint, concrete plinth. Sculpture: 200 x 130 x 150 cm. © Ugo Rondinone. Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ, London

Gavin Turk’s “Ajar” is very fitting in our one and only green space in the area, as it reflects so perfectly the doors of the adjoining St. Botolph’s-without-Bishopsgate church, and sits in a very social space on a summer’s day. I’ve seen a few people walking through the doorway, while others gaze at it – unsure of what it’s doing there. 

Jürgen Partenheimer’s “Axis Mundi” sits on a site we are using for the very first time, and one with a very different feel to the tall buildings’ space; so for me, the seven-meter-tall, royal-blue piece signifies a great statement, as do the two Ugo Rondinone masks on the corner of Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street, which is one of our busiest sites. 

William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx. Firewalker, 2014. Painted steel, 300 x 175 x 204 cm. © William Kentridge & Gerhard Marx. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

If I can squeeze just one more in, then that would be William Kentridge’s and Gerhard Marx’s “Firewalker”, which is both playful and contemplative, and on the corner of Bishopsgate, where  thousands walk past. And who can miss Jaume Plensa’s “Laura”, in front of the Gherkin  – which the security team there are very happy with.