Art that embraces a new future for St Pancras
Wednesday 14 February 2007
A young couple stand locked in an embrace on a station concourse, oblivious to the travellers milling around them as they mark a moment of departure or arrival. It is a scene repeated daily around the globe but few such brief encounters are nine metres tall, weigh 20 tonnes and are cast in solid bronze for the edification and orientation of 50 million rail passengers.
This is the design for a towering sculpture that will form the centrepiece for the new £800m St Pancras International station in central London. Unveiled today, the artwork is part of an overhaul for George Gilbert Scott's high-Gothic masterpiece that will see fast food restaurants rejected in favour of gourmet eateries and a farmers' market.
Entitled The Meeting Place, the £1m sculpture by British artist Paul Day will tower over the southern end of the new Eurostar terminus as a rendezvous point for the 50 million people who will pass through the station every year when it reopens in November.
The design, which will also have a bronze frieze with scenes from the station's 139-year history, was chosen over other versions showing the couple in a full-blown snog. But while the gargantuan couple will be unmissable, its creator is ready to answer critics who may suggest its naturalistic style, complete with a rucksack and high heels, is not at the cutting edge of British art.
Mr Day, whose previous commissions include the Battle of Britain monument on London's Victoria Embankment, said: "This is not an art work that is going to be selected for the Turner Prize. It isn't a Damien Hirst sculpture of a pregnant woman stripped down to the constituent parts. It is diametrically opposed to that sort of art. It isn't about a cynical world view or the artist's glory.
"Some will say it is a chocolate box sculpture. But I don't want it to be bound by the prevailing view of art. Meeting Place is an appeal to universal values."
The artist, who lives in France with his French wife, Catherine, said the sculpture also embodied the meeting between the Gallic and Anglo-Saxon worlds that will take place as Eurostar trains from Paris and Brussels arrive at the restored Victorian train shed.
The unveiling of the design, just four months after it was commissioned, comes as the final stages of the 10-year renovation of the station come to fruition.
London & Continental Railways, the owners of the terminus, which had the world's largest single-span iron roof when it was completed in 1868, said they want to restore it to its former status as one of central London's key venues.
The Midland Grand, which occupied the vast Gothic edifice that made the station famous, was one of the capital's most glamorous hotels before it fell into disuse in the 1930s.
A renovation of the hotel will be part of a wider makeover that will also include a vast champagne bar, a gastropub and a permanent farmers' market similar to Borough Market in south London. A spokesman said: "We want the new St Pancras to be a place where people come to meet and spend time."
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