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Donkin's World: Public Art - Where Will it End?

Stonehenge considered a “Salisbury folly’’? Egyptians grumbling about the pyramids?

Journalist and author Richard Donkin muses on the past and future of public art.

Do please visit Richard’s absorbing Web site http://richarddonkin.com/

There is a craze just now for public art - large scale statements that some local authorities believe can breathe regeneration in to places that have become overlooked or forgotten. One of the latest is a giant seagull planned for the Isle of Man.

Ever since the Angel of the North http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/content/image_galleries/northumbria_icons_angel_gallery.shtml appeared in Gateshead, local authorities up and down the UK have been wanting their own big thing. It has happened before. What is the Eiffel Tower but some kind of icon (an ugly one in my opinion) for a City? In the same way Blackpool had to copy it.

New York has its Statue of Liberty and Brussels,its Atomium. I suppose the Atomium http://destinationsen.eurostar.com/sisp/index.htm?fx=event&event_id=42139 and the Skylon tower - symbol of the Festival of Britain, 1951 - were less art statements and more statements of the kind of futuristic thinking that existed at the time.

But they are all big things http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia%27s_big_things that, once (and this didn't happen to the Skylon) they are afforded iconic status (a kind of creeping public and institutional acceptance), get the stamp of permanence. The Atomium was only supposed to be there for six months, just as the London Eye was supposed to be a temporary feature.

Remember all the controversy over the Millennium Dome (now the O2 building)? I wonder if there was anything similar over Stonehenge? I could imagine headlines in Bronze Age newspapers, had they existed, complaining about the "Salisbury folly." Perhaps there were Egyptians who grumbled about the pyramids.

I have nothing against the functional, such as the beautiful Millau Bridge http://www.siteselection.com/ssinsider/snapshot/sf050103.htm in France, but tacky stuff such as The Meeting Place at St Pancras does nothing to beautify our world. that kind of "art" is as out of place in the English countryside as a garden gnome at Chelsea Flower Show.

N.B. I love Stonehenge. Here's a great piece about photographing the stones for National Geographic Magazine.


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