Leading article: A monumental debate

Related Topics

There has been a trend towards gigantism in public sculpture in recent years. Antony Gormley's 20m Angel of the North in Gateshead kicked it off in 1998. Then, in 2005, came Manchester's 40m B of the Bang, followed in 2008 by Nottingham University's 60m Aspire tower. Anish Kapoor's 50m long Temenos was unveiled in Middlesbrough's docks earlier this year. But that is only the beginning. Mark Wallinger's 50m Ebbsfleet Horse will soon greet passengers as they emerge from the Channel Tunnel. And Mr Kapoor's 115m Orbit tower is due to open on the Olympic site in east London in 2012.

As we report today, some in the art world are beginning to ask sceptical questions about this profusion of monumental sculpture. Is it value for public money? Does it actually contribute to the regeneration of depressed areas? And what is the quality of the work? There have been flashes of local opposition too. Proposals for a 16m tower in Gloucester have drawn complaints. Meanwhile, some in Cumbernauld have wondered whether the £250,000 spent on the town's new 10m sculpture could have been better spent on local housing.

There will always be disagreements on matters of taste. And it should be remembered that opponents of projects do not always reflect the majority view. French literary luminaries such as Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant protested against the construction of the Eiffel Tower. Parisians, in the end, disagreed with them.

Something similar has taken place in parts of Britain. Though some in the art world have always been dismissive of the Angel of the North, the sculpture has been embraced by the local population in the North East. It remains to be seen whether more recent sculptures will inspire the same affection. But it would be foolish to assume that these works are all destined for contempt.

To some extent, the debate about monumental public sculpture is likely to prove academic. Most of these large projects were given the green light at a time of public affluence. Now council and arts budgets are under pressure we are likely to see fewer commissioned. The era of the monumental public sculpture might be coming to an end even as it reaches new heights. But it would be a shame if we were to lurch from one extreme to another. Public sculpture is of vital importance when it comes to forging a sense of local pride and belonging. The critics are right that quality matters and that size is not everything. But, equally, we should not fall into the trap of assuming that the job of civilising our public spaces, towns and regions through art is complete.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living