The secret art of the Dome

The 'white tent' has inspired the biggest collection of contemporary art ever seen in the UK
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The Independent Online

Underwhelmed by the entertainment on offer at the Millennium Dome, its critics have overlooked its art. A quick lap of the Dome proves that the opportunity to commission major works by international sculptors has not been missed. On Tuesday, Art at the Dome will be launched to coincide with the unveiling of Anish Kapoor's Parabolic Waters: a concave mirror scaled to fit exactly under the Dome.

Art lovers may not want to pay pounds 20 to view it , but there are plans to open the Dome for two or three hours in the evening throughout the summer for pounds 7, when a walk around the waterfront, where the Thames oxbows into a loop, will reveal a cluster of sculptures. Some, such as Bill Cupert's Skyline with a fizz of neon blue threads apparently flapping from three masts, work best at dusk. Tony Cragg's Lifetime, what appears to be three tall stacks of plates and bowls made from non-stick carbon kevlar used in yachts, reveals a series of faces and profiles when looked at from certain angles.

Even on a grey day, that beautiful southern promenade, with these resilient pieces frozen in the gloom, is haunting. Some sculptures are even in the water. Richard Wilson has sliced and rearranged a 30-year-old dredger offshore with precision and affection. Antony Gormley's Quantum Cloud, which is near the skyscape on the river approach to the Dome, is built on the old caseons of the Victorian pier with the jaunty umbrellas and blue balustrades of Richard Rogers' pier as its backdrop

Andrea Schlieker, who headed a selection panel to commission the artists, asked them each for their individual responses to the site. It's fitting then that the artists have used water, light and even sound for their work. Tacita Dean's Friday/Saturday sound sculpture uses the octagonal face of the Blackwall Tunnel. Rose Finn Kelcey's piece, It Pays to Pray, dispenses prayers for a returnable 20 pence from four vending machines.

Inside the Dome, the architectural spaces have the most sculptures. The Faith Zone, designed by architect Eva Jiricna, has at its entrance Amazing Grace by David Begbie, and at its core Night Rain by James Turrell.

The Mind Zone by architect Zaha Hadid, has an elaborate labyrinth snaking across its entrance by Richard Deacon called How much does your mind weigh? And at its exit, Language of Places by Langlands & Bell which kinetically flashes three-letter acronyms in airport signage. The message is: common language links the world. There is a self-portrait of a brain in a light box on the wall from Helen Chadwick's estate and a 3m-high crouching boy from Ron Mueck.

Marks & Spencer's Self Portrait Zone is an entire walk-in artwork with David Mach's collage spiralling along the ramp into the centre using the work of a quarter-of-a-million photographers sent in from across the UK. Ringed at the top by four Gerald Scarfe statues, Smoky Joe by Gavin Turk uses Marconi infra-red light cameras that probe avalanches in real life to reveal within a smoke-filled chamber a sculpted man.

All the negative comments about the Millennium Dome have eclipsed the largest new collection of contemporary art ever in the UK. The nation's best-kept secret is about to be revealed with the launch of Art in the Dome but long after it has folded its tent and slipped its moorings, these works of art will live on.