Friday, October 21, 2011

Art for art's sake Part II

The second part of this review of Newcastle City Council's efforts in the arena of 'public art' could be said to resemble "Hamlet" without the ghost. The most egregious example of their astonishing record of under-achievement is no more to be seen. It was swept away to the relief of many when the Haymarket Metro station was redeveloped for vacant office space. It comprised five foot high linked concrete cut outs forming a ring fence around the traffic side of the site that wraps around the South African War memorial in the Haymarket. Accompanying these – supposedly 'tributes to the fallen' – were water features. Space does not allow for a complete description; the associated fountain was turned on once, I believe, but winds whipped spray over the unfortunates using the Metro. Rumored costs were said to have been in the region of a half a million GBP at then ruling prices.

Northumberland Street sculptural features that complimented the Haymarket Metro fiasco are still in place. These have always reminded me of the kind of public art popular on the Continent in the 60s to provide cover to those localities where citizens with the wrong sort of grandparents where rounded up for transporting to death camps.

In straight forward financial terms, according to what has been made public at any rate, the re-development of the Laing Art Gallery must be at the top - 1.4 million GBP.

The Laing's entrance suffered from 'looking the wrong way' tucked down a side street. A sensible plan was made to change this and a brand new entrance was constructed on Portland Place, immediately visible from several points. The result was pleasing and, I am reliably informed, successful in attracting more visitors. The Laing goes about its work quietly and shows (for free) many touring exhibitions of national and international quality. The arrival of the Blue Carpet was a another matter.

 It was decided by someone or other, that the pedestrianised space outside the gallery's new entrance had to be something more than pavement, seats and trees. The concept that won the day was artist architect Thomas 'Bing of the Bang' Hetherwick. Mr Hetherwick was then at the beginning of his public career and netting him seemed to many in authority to have been something of a coup. The original concept was of a spangly 'carpet' that would glow with reflected light at night. Problems - and I am treading carefully here - arose. So did the costs. At the time it was reported that the material used to produce the spangles was not easily contrived. The final result was mixed. Essentially what was got was less Blue Carpet, rather more Grey Blanket. The trees are nice.

Looking down on all this from his column is Lord Grey, he of the famous blend of tea and 1834 Reform Act, also known as the Great Reform Act. He is rightly commemorated and stands tall, a testament to something beyond money and shopping.

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