Antony Gormley made his name as the creator of grand sculptures with his monumental Angel of the North. So it may surprise many artists attempting to emulate his success to hear that he has condemned the current crop of modern public artworks across the UK as "crap".
"On the whole," he said, "We have not reinvented the statue very convincingly for the 21st century," adding "There is an awful lot of crap out there."
A decade after his experimental 65ft-high figure was erected in Gateshead, Gormley said the success of the sculpture had inadvertently set a precedent for the proliferation of unchallenging works of art in public spaces.
He singled out The Meeting Place statue of two lovers embracing at St Pancras International Station for criticism. Other works he dislikes are a statue of Churchill and Roosevelt on Bond Street and David Wynne's Boy With a Dolphin in Chelsea.
He went on: "I don't like the way the Angel of the North has been used for some kind of precedent to encourage people and local authorities looking for European funding or investment. When we made the Angel, it was an experiment. We managed to get lottery money and European funding but it was a huge risk."
To many, Gormley, who is currently on a shortlist for creating a sculpture for the fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Square, is the most prominent producer of public art alive in Britain today. Aside from the Angel sculpture of 1998, he also produced Another Place for Crosby Beach near Liverpool and Iron:Man, placed in Birmingham's Victoria Square.
He said it was not the quantity of public artworks in Britain that offended him but the prevailing lack of creativity.
"So much of the art of the 20th century has ended up being corralled into museums. I would love to see more significant work in public spaces that is not institutionalised – work that is truly everyone's. There are works that really challenge you that maybe you don't understand at first but you keep going back to see them because they niggle. But art placed in public spaces that does not challenge does a disservice.
"A lot of public art is gunge, an excuse which says, 'we're terribly sorry to have built this senseless glass and steel tower but here is this 20-foot bronze cat'," he said.
The artist also felt that Britain needed a proper structure to shortlist and judge commissions, similar to that currently in place in Germany and Holland, which he claimed have greater forms of quality control for a commissioned piece of public art.
"Here, the standards are very low [for] the way submissions are judged," he said.
Gormley's outspoken comments came as he unveiled an indoor sculptural piece, Lost Horizon, priced at £1.35m and displayed at White Cube Gallery in Mason's Yard, London. It follows last year's public art project 'Event Horizon', which he did with the Hayward Gallery, in which he placed several statues modelled on his own body on buildings around central London.
Another new work, Firmament, priced at £850,000, is a geometrical structure based on the human body and could also be suitable for outdoor display.
The artist joins a long-running debate on the value of public art which was reinvigorated by Marjorie Trusted, senior curator of sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, who said many commissions were "disappointing, old-fashioned and awkward" while Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane's Museum in London, dismissed them as "horrors".
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