REVIEW: Sculpture in the City 2019

By Martin Macdonald

Sculpture in the City brings together an array of public art in the Square Mile, London’s successful and oft-maligned financial centre. Like previous years, the 9th edition is a mixed bag. Some works are truly engaging whilst others appear to be fillers.

Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s lopsided Bridging Home, a replica of a traditional Hanok-style Korean house installed on the footbridge over a busy street, and Crocodylius Philondendrus, a giant metallic cluster of animals by American artist Nancy Rubins, have both appeared in previous SITC editions, on the exact same locations. This, and the fact that there are three Arcadia signs – two too many – by English artist Leo Fitzmaurice, are part of what makes this year’s SITC a little less exciting than expected.

Do Ho Suh, Bridging Home, 2018

Fortunately, 2019 also holds several standout pieces. These include the digital Botanic garden by American artist Jennifer Steinkamp. Installed on the ceiling of a corridor at 120 Fenchurch Street, the piece is not only Instagram-friendly but also captivating. The animation features moving flowers, seeds, twigs, leaves and petals against a black backdrop, accentuating nature’s liveliness and vibrant colours.

Jennifer Steinkamp, Botanic, 2019

This makes the fact that the Square Mile is a concrete jungle with few green spaces, all the more obvious. The piece also leads the viewer to think not only about the role of nature in contemporary life but also about what constitutes public space. After all, much of what is often considered public space is actually corporate, private land.

A few streets away from Botanic is the rather poignant The Same for Everyone by Scottish artist Nathan Coley. In the context of the Square Mile, the piece can be seen as a critique of the financial district’s excesses and ‘disaster capitalism’ or perhaps a reminder of the silly ‘we are all in this together’ Tory mantra following austerity measures during the Cameron era. Bringing the artwork’s statement to the current day, in an increasingly divided UK in which the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is real, it can also be viewed as a critique of Westminster's ‘circus politics’.

Nathan Coley, The Same for Everyone, 2017

I’m Staying, a neon text-based piece by English artist Shaun C Badham, is installed in the charming Leadenhall Market. Once again, in the context of the Square Mile and Brexit, the piece seems to be a call for bankers in business meetings to consume another drink or two in the market’s many bars and restaurants, for the UK to remain in the EU, or even for London’s financial sector to stay put in the UK despite Brexit.

Shaun C Badham, I'm Staying, 2014

Another highlight is Action 180: At 9:15am Sunday 28 May 1967 from the Site of the Fall – Study of a Rennaisance Garden series by Iranian artist Reza Aramesh. The piece is a larger than life hand carved Carrara marble sculpture of a well-toned man with a hood over his head. Although it is based on reportage images of the Vietnam War, it is likely to remind viewers of prisoners jailed by the US army in the Abu Ghraib prison during the war in Iraq or those in Guantanamo. As such, it brings to mind the spectre of war and terror. Additionally, it seems to pose the question: Is society blinded by its obsession with consumerism and the body beautiful?

The 9th edition of Sculpture in the City runs until April 2020.

Reza Aramesh, Action 180: At 9:15am Sunday 28 May 1967, 2016

Kevin Francis Gray, Reclining Nude I, 2016

Patrick Tuttofuoco, The Source, 2017

Nancy Rubins, Crocodylius Philodendrus, 2016/17