David Lee: Nowhere is safe from epidemic of monstrous works by Kapoor and Co

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The Independent Online

The announcement that Anish Kapoor is to exhibit large sculptures at the Serpentine is no surprise. After all, since his retrospective closed at the Royal Academy he hasn't been shown in London for all of nine months.

Only three months ago he was announced as the winner of a competition to make the largest public sculpture ever planned; an ugly big dipper for the Olympic site. Two months ago he unveiled his largest sculpture to date, Temenos, at Middlesbrough quayside.

Our blinkered state galleries have become obsessed with a few sculptors, like Kapoor and his colleague in competing size Antony Gormley. The longer this obsession continues, the greedier and grander the sculptors' ambitions seem to become.

As with the oeuvre of Henry Moore, the larger the works grow, the more emptied of content and the more demonstrative of rampant egotism and immodesty they become.

Overindulged artists, it seems, lose all self-criticism. In the case of Temenos, an enormous fisherman's keep net strung out to dry in the breeze, it might have relevance in the wider context of the artist's oeuvre but conspicuously abandoned at the centre of industrial dereliction one wonders what, if anything, it has to say, indeed why it is there at all.

But what about all those claims that monstrous works "regenerate" an area? There is not a shred of evidence to support the irrational belief that massive sculpture equals regional panacea. The Angel of the North has been waving its ungainly paddles for more than 10 years, yet Tyneside still finishes top in all published indices of poverty, unemployment and deprivation. And did the silly B of the Bang regenerate east Manchester, as it was claimed it would? No, and it's not likely to now that it's been dismantled due to incompetent design.

Public art has become a virulent epidemic of both quantity and inflated scale. Nowhere is safe from this new species of street furniture. It has been calculated that between 1870 and 1980, 839 public sculptures were unveiled. Since 1980 the figure is 844 works.

On its own admission, the National Lottery had by 2002 spent £72m on public art. For all this cash I can't think of a single recent work which merits the descriptions "sculpture" or "masterpiece", and which wouldn't have been better replaced by a stand of trees.

David Lee is editor of 'Jackdaw' magazine