Tag Archives: Thatcher

Back to The Future

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

This is one from the original concept for this blog; one of the hundreds of slides that i took while working at the A**s C***cil in the late 1990’s and early 2000s.

The work afforded lots of opportunity for travel and because I’m nose-y, also allowed me to poke my nose into places where people didn’t often go. I can’t remember how I first heard about Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion (probably while working at the H**ry M**re Foundation in the early ’90’s) but it had always been high on my list of interesting places to visit. Virtually inaccessible except by Geordie public transport or by car, the sculpture (sculpitectre? (c) Sir Anthony Caro) was a bastard to find in those far off pre-google maps days. I drove twice round Peterlee first, far too intimated to ask for directions to something that I already knew that the locals hated…but there it was, nestled in a grassy dell of the Sunny Blunts estate, surmounting a rancid lake, the Chapel Perilous by way of A Clockwork Orange: something heroic, Arthurian and abandoned, a pissy, graffitti-ed castle. The sculpture (completed 1969) was named for the moon landings, and represents the fag-end of British Modernism, as the sixties curdled into the 70’s, Alfie growing into Jack Carter. The Pavilion was a symbol, not of the heroic age of modernism, but of the slow decline of British visual culture into the 1980’s, into the apotheosis of middle-class philistinism, Margret Thatcher.

The Pavilion is now restored, having been refused listing by New Labour’s ‘Tony’ Banks in 1998 (Cool Britannia rejecting the visual culture of Old Labour in all its forms), a Community Association having been formed to protect it (how wrong I was) in 2003 and  £336,000 awarded to Peterlee from the HLF in 2008. The steps have been reinstated, the fence and ‘softening’ planting removed, as befits an icon of British modernism. In 2011 is was awarded Grade II* listed status, the second highest level of listing by English Heritage. I link to a image of it restored, but, secretly, I still prefer its abandoned state when only I, like Sir Percival, knew the location of the grail, and whom it served.

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Please Wipe Your Feet

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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.

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Antiques Village

Antiques Village, Metro Centre, Gateshead. G.022007L
Photograph by E.Storey. A Dennis Postcard

In the spirit of the boring postcard, here’s lovely one of the sadly defunct Antiques Village from the Metro Centre in Gateshead, Britain’s first shopping mall/centre. I can’t remember when or where I bought this, but, I suppose, given the specialised nature of the image, it must have been in Gateshead (Newcastle Central Station, WHSmiths?). The card is a classic of its type, with subject of the photograph in darkness, while the expanse of brown-tiled flooring takes up 1/3 of the picture.

I spent a lot of time in Newcastle in the 90’s, working on a lot of arts funding projects; both Newcastle, and especially Gateshead, who were very prescient in their arts infrastructure decisions.  Gateshead suffers from being ‘on-the-way-to’ Newcastle, and I’ve never been to the Metro Centre, but it looks wonderfully eighties. The nearest I got to the Metro was the Gateshead Garden Festival in 1990, part funded by my then employer. Pre-the John Major National Lottery, the Garden Festivals were a Thatcher-era boondoggle to assist in the regeneration of post-industrial Britain. The Gateshead festival had a pretty forward looking  arts commissioning programme, that has provided me with many happy hours of identifying where all that art ended up (some, weirdly, in the pre-YBA collection of Lord Palumbo: whatever happened to him?). I was going to try and come up with something on the awesomeness of Edward Thomas West Dennis & Sons Ltd., Scarborough, postcards, but I see that the internet has beaten me to it.

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A kick up the Eighties

This one always made me laugh. This was up all through college and several places since, hence the coffee stains.

Part of the point of this blog is to post images that don’t seem to be available anywhere else. This postcard was purchased from one of those small second-hand bookshops in the Covered Market. Does that kind of shop even exist anymore? Last time I was in the Covered Market it was all souvenir shops for coach parties.

Anyway, this was the era of Biff and Daisy Pulls It Off, and for me the card perfectly captured the sense of entitlement to past and present that was the hallmark of the Thatcher government. We’re all supposed to admire what the chemist from Somerville did for us all now, but the smug suburban self-satisfaction of the Thatcher gang was what stuck in my throat, and made them so unbearably English. Maybe it had to be done; but why did they all have sound so pleased to have to do it?

The Boyhood of Norman Tebbit, recycled images, Oxford Covered Market 1986

The reference is to Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit’s response to the 1981 riots that he “grew up in the ’30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking ’til he found it”.

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