Until now, Milton Keynes' most famous artwork has been a concrete sculpture of a herd of cows in a field next to the railway line. But yesterday the most joked-about city in Britain showed off its new art gallery and theatre - a complex that may change the city's image forever, especially as the gallery's first exhibition will feature the work of Gilbert and George, Britain's trendiest contemporary art pairing.
The complex opens officially in October, and the "The Rudimentary Pictures" will be Gilbert and George's first show since "The Naked Shit Pictures" four years ago. The exhibition will transfer from Milton Keynes to Los Angeles - a hitherto unrecognised transatlantic crossing.
After walking the city's soulless grid-designed streets, which carry such evocative names as H5 and the subtly contrasting H6, Gilbert and George yesterday declared they "exuded sexuality". The artists crossed the endless series of roundabouts wide-eyed, gazed upon the massive rectangular sheds containing supermarkets and offices, and claimed they gave off a "buzz".
The famous concrete cows have not yet been replaced by real ones in formaldehyde, but the cultural elite has apparently suddenly found beauty in what has always been deemed uninspiring and dull.
The whole arts complex cost pounds 30 million, pounds 20 million of which came from National Lottery money. Yesterday, the gallery's director Stephen Snoddy toured the site with Gilbert and George.
Mr Snoddy certainly saw yesterday as a new beginning: "The difficulty with Milton Keynes," he said, "is the perception of a cultural desert. But the pioneers who came here in the Sixties had children, their children had children, and now over 50 per cent of the population is under 35. And the population has matured. There is a great interest in culture now. The concrete cows served a purpose. They put Milton Keynes on the map. But they are past their sell-by date. The new theatre and the new gallery are now the symbols of Milton Keynes."
And Gilbert and George were pleased to be part of it. "We are thrilled," they said. "The mere mention of the name Milton Keynes brings a smile of enthusiasm to the faces of our younger friends. It is very important that this young `Space Station' of a city now has a building devoted to contemporary culture."
Gilbert added: "We very much like to expose ourselves in a new space. Our new work will be images of tears in the city, sweat in the city, blood in the city. This city exudes sexuality like all cities. Even the names are sexual."
It was unclear whether he was referring to H5 or H6.
The city's new-found confidence is reflected in the posters that bill the shopping centre and cafes next to the arts complex as "The Theatre District". Situated on Lower 12th Street, one almost thinks of the romance of New York. Almost.
But one should not ponder this area or its art too much on leaving the new complex - nor think about anything else. This is Milton Keynes and you need to have your wits about you when crossing streets that proclaim: "Pedestrians Do Not Have Priority".
Try to cross the road musing about Milton Keynes's inaugural exhibition, and it may be the last you ever see.Reuse content