Here is another of my own slides; this was taken in Birmingham late 1994 or early 1995. It’s the rear of the Birmingham International Convention Centre, leading to the small bridge that takes you over the canal to Brindley Place and the Ikon Gallery. The bronze sculpture is Battle of the Gods and the Giants by Roderick Tye. I didn’t know that when I took the image, because then (it maybe different now) the work appeared to be un-credited in the space. The sculpture was commissioned in 1990 by The Public Art Commissions Agency. Lead by the redoubtable Vivien Lovell (now heading up her own practice), PACA was one of several regional public art commissions agencies set up by Arts Council of GB to promote best practice in public commissioning by offering subsidised services to local government and private entities. By the end of the 1990’s most of these agencies had broken up into individual private practice; National Lottery funding had made the public art sector a more stable business and the vaguries of regular Arts Council support via Regional Arts Board made publicly-supported agencies much less viable.
Tye’s work was part of a grand scheme for public art around the Convention Centre (architects Percy Thomas Partnership, 1991) and Centenary Square, including a massive surface treatment by Tess Jaray and a central sculpture by Raymond Mason, Forward.
When I used to lecture about public art, I’m afraid that I sometimes used this image to illustrate Tom Wolfe’s memorable phrase ‘Turd In the Plaza’ (a phrase taken from The Worship of Art, Harpers, 1984; attributed by Wolfe to James Wines, founder of SITE. Personally, I think Wolfe just made it up). Further public space wags then coined Plop Art , delightfully continuing the lavatorial theme, to describe public art works that appeared to be simply placed, rather than sited or fully integrated, within the urban fabric that they were intended to enhance. Essentially it became a term like ‘political correctness’ that was simple used to describe something that you didn’t like, a self-conciously ‘edgy’ phrase, used by artists, architects, theorists and policy-makers as a public art strawman. I felt that Battle of the Gods and the Giants expressed the concept rather well, since it was both turd-shaped and at the exit/rear of the Convention centre, in addition to being completely devoid of any conceptual or physical connection to its surroundings. Literally a cloud, floating without anchor, in a courtyard of brick, surrounded by planters and Homebase garden furniture. However, after reading about Roderick Tye, a sculptor, educator and fly-fisherman, who died in 2009 at aged just 50, I’m sorry that his work was not done better justice by its commissioners and owners.
Tip’o’the Pin to George Noszlopy’s The Public Sculpture of Birmingham.