Seeing the City from a different angle

An enormous - and hugely expensive - hoarding has run afoul of the Corporation of London. But Amanda Baillieu says that it's w ell worth seeing - while you can
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The Independent Culture
It's bright, funny, informative and you are almost guaranteed to love it or hate it. In the week since it's been up, the 215ft hoarding running across the frontage of the Corn Exchange office development in the City of London's Mark Lane has become unavoidable viewing.

The enormous, all-singing, all-dancing hoarding was commissioned by British Land, developer of the Corn Exchange building. The multi-coloured hoarding, designed by the architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris and Morag Myercough, has met with the disapproval of Corporation of London, which says it was erected without planning permission and will have to go. The granting of retrospective permission will not be considered despite the fact that the design has the backing not just of John Riblatt, chairman of British Land (a big patron of contemporary art), but also of Nicholas Snowman, chief executive of the South Bank Centre. Snowman was one of a panel of judges who chose the hoarding through a competition organised by Design Week. A prize of £5,000 was shared by the winning team; the hoarding cost close to £100,000, an enormous sum for such a venture.

"We are not against avant-garde art," said Peter Rees, the City of London's chief planning officer, "but this is ugly. ... It's a cacophany that's drawing unecessary attention to a building site."

Depending upon the angle from which it is approached, passers-by are confronted with either the word "Familiarity" snaking the length of the hoarding, or by cryptic images relating to the five senses and denoted by vivid shades of yellow, magenta, turquoise, orange and green. "Pump and grind and feel the muscles grow and the sweat flow," urges the yellow section, dedicated to smell, below a photograph of "smelly trainers". The orange section on sight blurts "Wow! What a church", showing a picture of Wren's St Stephen's Walbrook; an image of St Dunstan-in-the-East is described as being "like a scene from a Hammer Horror movie", which might more appropriately be directed at the Gothic-style Minster Court building nearby.

What do these right-on slogans mean? They are aimed at prompting City workers into taking a fresh look at extraordinary buildings in extraordinary streets, which in the course of the working week become familiar to the point of being overlooked. "The idea of the hoarding is to make you look at the City afresh," said Morag Myerscough, "as well as to show people some of the sights in the area that tend to get forgotten."

Good taste? Bad taste? Avant-garde art at its most eye-stopping? Judge for yourself, but catch it while you can because it will vanish as quickly as it came into acid-coloured being.