Indian sculptor's works plucked from scrap-heap: An office site is giving refuge to 120 statues. Patrick Matthews reports

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The Independent Online
THE INDIAN sculptor Nek Chand is feted across the world. An estimated 10 million people have visited his 25-acre (10 hectare) sculpture park in Punjab. His work is on permanent display in Washington and Berlin. But, in Britain, his gift to London of 120 works of sculpture have had to be rescued from the scrap-heap.

The sculptures - animals, soldiers, birds and labourers, which would fetch a five-figure sum at least if sold - were brought over to coincide with a recent visit to London by Chand, and are one legacy of what his British admirers have described as a fiasco. 'When he visited Germany there was a motorcade,' John Maizels, editor of Raw Vision magazine, said. 'On his trip to the USA he was given the freedom of the city of Baltimore and the Mayor of Washington declared an official Nek Chand day. In Britain he was put in a tenement flat off Brick Lane. I think he's frankly baffled by his treatment.'

The statues had been on display behind the City of London's Broadgate development as part of Edge 92, an Arts Council-funded project involving 23 artists in various public sites in London and Madrid.

There were no plans for them after June until Mr Maizels found space for them at the Alaska building in Southwark, south London, an office development currently being used for exhibitions. But his magazine can only fund viewing twice-weekly.

Chand's 25-acre Rock Garden, in the Punjabi city of Chandigarh, began in the late 1950s as the private hobby of an off-duty roads inspector. He defied planning regulations to create a world of kings and queens, villages and deities. His raw material, then as now, was rubbish - bike parts, clinker ash and broken pottery - which he fashioned in the jungle by the light of burning tyres. When an anti-malaria party stumbled on it by accident, it was recognised as a work of genius. The Rock Garden is the most visited site in India after the Taj Mahal. 'These statues are the gift to London of one of the world's greatest living artists,' Mr Maizels said. 'He will not allow them to be sold, other than the occasional piece to pay our expenses . . . It would be absurd for London to throw them away.'

Sarah Wason, the Arts Council's senior visual arts officer, said: 'I think the problem was that Edge 92 overstretched themselves both in terms of their staff and their financial resources, and as a result a number of artists have been unhappy about the way they were seemingly treated.'

She added: ' No slight was intended to Nek Chand.'

(Photograph omitted)