Monday, 6 May 2013

Gormley’s Bollards - Great Art or Gormless Artefacts ?

Fenwick Road, South Peckham
I was driving through South London the other Sunday afternoon when I was surprised to pass bollards which looked like the work of Anthony Gormley , he of the  Angel of the North.

The last time I’d seen work like these was in an art dealer’s garden – they looked magnificent – monumental in the closed, intimate space of an urban back garden. There on the streets of South London they looked equally stunning against the mundaneness of their urban setting.

Art Dealer's Garden with Sub-Titles
I believe this is Gormley connecting art and life - the sublation of art with the praxis of life [1]. And the Council acknowledging that connection, sustaining the link using aesthetic objects for practical purposes, Gormley's forms for traffic control.

The bollards are named Oval , Snowman , Peg and Penis each presumably  taking its name from its essential form. You can buy Penis, discreetly called No2 , along with any of the other three, each with a price guide of £650 plus VAT – numbered but unsigned. All four original bollards numbered one –from an unspecified edition- are still available  at £16,000 plus VAT. 

Marshall's Specification for Gormley's Bollards
Marshall Brochure for Gormley's Bollards
I find Gormley’s bollards interesting as they bring art to the street in a very practical way; public art without the pomp and  inevitably with a bit of controversy eg the absence of Penis. There again I wonder if anyone really noticed Penis’s absence, simply enjoying the monotony of the urban landscape being broken up by his bollards with their aesthetic appeal in addition to their functionality. And there is wider market for these bollards as garden objects and it looks as though some of Fenwick Street's bollards have been stolen to become a woodland or garden sculpture perhaps.

Bell Street Maidenhead
Sandwell, Near Birmingham
Fenwick Road, S Peckham with two Possibly Stolen?
Gormley like so many contemporary artists is a one trick pony re-working an idea almost to death, for Gormley it’s his body cast in one position or another.

IRON:MAN outside Birmingham's Town Hall
Detail of Another Place
Having said that his casts do work. The lone human figure when viewed at a distance in a seascape, landscape , set amongst skyscrapers, on mountainside or in a wide river bed its isolation makes one consider one’s own isolation amidst the hustle and bustle of twentieth century living. The cast seems to slow things down to a stop.

View of Gormley's Another Place
One of Gormley’s many lone repeated figure works is in Crosby near Liverpool, my hometown.  It’s  called  Another Place, it means something to me personally as it was there that I had the last day I had out alone with my Mum before she went into a care home. Mum’s dementia subsequently deteriorated to a state where Mum couldn’t safely be left alone, for fear that she would wander off.
Me Mum at Another Place
Mum very much enjoyed that day – if not the work as Mum kept asking about the figure’s presence “What are they doing here?” Sadly now Mum has gone to Another Place.

So, although I’m not a great fan of Gormley I can see how his artworks liven up the urban environment either as functional bollards or aesthetic objects. His bollards in particular making the connection between art and life – a fundamental purpose to my mind of art. They are not gormless equally not great, but good works, worthy of a place our society.

[1] A left wing statement from the Capitalism v Marxism debate of the Sixties and the role of the artist, I've written more about it earlier in this blog


  1. Where are the figures from that you quote for prices? Seems odd they are £650 individually but £16,000 for four!

  2. According the current owner they're worth £5k apiece apparently

    1. Back in the news