Disco dudes and giant spoons: UK public outdoor sculptures documented | Sculpture

Between two fields on the outskirts of a 1960s new town in Northumberland sits an astonishingly impressive sculpture that hardly anyone passes by on a regular basis: it is a giant 15 foot spoon.

Outside Dorset County Hospital is the vizsla dog, always well behaved because it was made by Elisabeth Frink in bronze. on the isle of man the three disc types strutting down the boardwalk are the Bee Gees.

Statue of fossil hunter Mary Anning at Lyme Regis, Dorset
Fossil hunter Mary Anning is celebrated at Lyme Regis, Dorset. Photograph: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the spectacular view from a Nando’s in Harlow is a beautiful bronze of Eva which Auguste Rodin originally intended as part of his Gates of Hell project in Paris.

In total, there are more than 13,500 public sculptures spread across the UK, an arts education charity has discovered, announcing the success of a project to photograph and digitize each one.

art uk has already documented the more than 200,000 oil paintings in Britain’s public collections. In 2019 she announced that she was turning her attention to sculpture and now, she said, completed his dizzyingly ambitious project to document all of the UK’s outdoor sculptures, whether it’s Cramlington’s giant spoon or the 175 statues, fountains, bandstands and clock towers dedicated to Queen Victoria.

It felt like an exciting moment, said Andrew Ellis, director of Art UK. “This project to document sculpture in the UK’s outdoor spaces is not only an important milestone for our charity, but also for anyone who cares about public art or just wants to know more about that sculpture they pass by. every day”.

At the heart of the project are more than 500 volunteers who have crisscrossed the UK in search of works, from Stornoway to herring girlto the recently introduced Victorian fossil hunter Mary Anning at Lyme Regis. More than 140,000 photographs of the works have been taken from different angles.

The life-size bronze of Pocahontas in St. George's Church in Gravesend, Kent.
The life-size bronze of Pocahontas in St. George’s Church in Gravesend, Kent. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The project shows that there are some 70 outdoor sculptures by Henry Moore and more than 30 by Barbara Hepworth. there are an eric morecambe in Morecambe, a Captain Mainwaring at Thetford and a princess pocahontas in Gravesend.

The new database shows that only 2% of sculptures of named people are of people from various ethnic backgrounds. Women make up only 17% of public sculptures depicting or commemorating named individuals.

“It’s interesting but, frankly, we weren’t surprised,” Ellis said. “Hopefully what’s happening is we’re starting to see that slowly change as new public sculptures are put up. The data shows that the nation’s named sculptures do not represent the society we live in today.”

Art UK also said it had almost completed a side project to document all sculpture from the last thousand years in public collections, of which there are 36,000 so far. The next step, he hopes, is murals and pottery.

Artist Rana Begum said it was an amazing project. “I think especially with the pandemic, people are online and they’re looking for where the public sculptures are, they’re looking for things to do.”

Maggi Hambling's controversial sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, north London.
Maggi Hambling’s controversial sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, north London. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Public art lifts spirits, Begum said, but it also encourages conversations between people. “It’s important for mental health and also for connecting people. Public art allows people to take a break from their busy and crazy days.”

Public art can often be controversial and divisive. The naked spirit of Maggi Hambling’s figure of femininity celebrating Mary Wollstonecraft, for example, but on the whole the response is cheerful.

Begum just installed a wildly colorful piece of public art in Island of the City of London in East London. “The response has been very positive with really lovely comments from the people who live and work there,” she said. “Every day the work changes due to the weather and the light and that is the exciting thing about having a work in the public sphere. He constantly reacts to things around him.”

Antony Gormley, creator of one of the UK’s most famous and beloved public sculptures, the angel of the northalso celebrated the success of the project.

“This is a wonderful resource that allows us all to learn about and visit the works that we collectively own,” he said. “Many exist in open spaces, whether rural or urban, and can be visited day or night in any season…works that are truly liveable and that enrich and deepen our experience of their surroundings.”

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Ellis said it wasn’t just about creating a database; the idea was also to tell stories behind the works and create walking tours.

Art UK also has a detective agency” to help identify unknown caretakers or creators. There will inevitably be works that have gotten away, and Ellis is asking for public help.

“We cannot be so arrogant as to think that we have it all. The nice thing about having a live, online registry is that it’s very easy to update as other work is posted or anything we’ve missed,” he said.

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