Nd fright­en­ing

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

were just some of the ad­jec­tives Hongkongers used to de­scribe Antony Gorm­ley’s

when it landed in Cen­tral late last year. Fol­low­ing the erec­tion of 31 fi­bre­glass stat­ues, po­lice were in­un­dated with calls from wor­ried res­i­dents about naked men stand­ing on the edges of sky­scrapers. Con­fu­sion reigned at street level, too; one of the sculp­tures, on the Queen’s Road Cen­tral foot­path, was deemed an “ob­struc­tion” and tem­po­rar­ily bar­ri­caded by the High­ways Depart­ment af­ter a com­plaint from a mem­ber of the pub­lic.

Hong Kong’s ever-cau­tious law­mak­ers must have been bit­ing their fin­ger­nails over the drama, per­haps even ques­tion­ing the mer­its of the con­tro­ver­sial pro­ject they’d ap­proved. For the city’s cul­tural com­men­ta­tors, how­ever, the palaver did noth­ing more than high­light the city’s dire need for more—and, in­deed, more chal­leng­ing—pub­lic art.

“Th­ese wrong kinds of re­ac­tions to Event Hori­zon showed just how im­ma­ture the cit­i­zens are in re­gard to pub­lic art,” says cul­tural com­men­ta­tor Kai-yin Lo. “Gorm­ley’s Event Hori­zon is a path-find­ing pub­lic art pro­ject. More projects need to fol­low—and soon.”

The term pub­lic art refers to works that have been planned and ex­e­cuted with the in­ten­tion of be­ing ex­hib­ited in the pub­lic do­main, usu­ally out­doors and ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one. The phe­nom­e­non is as old as civil­i­sa­tion it­self, but be­fore the 20th cen­tury it gen­er­ally took the form of ma­jes­tic mon­u­ments to lead­ers and re­splen­dent religious art—pro­pa­gan­dis­tic works for church and state.

Pub­lic art came into its own in the mid-20th cen­tury as con­tem­po­rary artists vied to cre­ate sur­pris­ing, con­fronting and cathar­tic pieces af­ter the Se­cond World War. Since then, good pub­lic art has be­come a main­stay of thriv­ing cul­tural cen­tres. Projects like the Fourth Plinth com­mis­sion in Lon­don, Sculp­ture by the Sea at Bondi Beach in Syd­ney, and sculp­ture trails in Bil­bao, Spain, and Chicago’s Mil­len­nium Park draw thou­sands of vis­i­tors ev­ery year, spur rich di­a­logue within com­mu­ni­ties and el­e­vate the pro­file of cities on the world stage.

Whether per­ma­nent or tem­po­rary, com­mis­sioned pub­licly or pri­vately, the best pub­lic art draws on its con­text and res­onates with the com­mu­nity in which it sits. Lo notes that Gorm­ley’s An­gel of the North (near Gateshead in the UK), for ex­am­ple, has “given a defini­tive lift to the area and has be­come a sym­bol of re­gen­er­a­tion for an oth­er­wise dull and grey district.”

Tim Mar­low, di­rec­tor of artis­tic pro­grammes at the Royal Academy of Arts, has never sub­scribed to the view that art is “good for you” and that it should be pre­scribed like medicine in a “nanny-knows- Ma­que­tte VI Walk­ing Woman (1984) is one of 25 works by Lynn Chad­wick com­ing to Hong Kong this month

Bronze beauty

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