Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Line sculpture walk to go ahead in east London

The Line, a new 'sculpture walk' proposed for east London is due to open this summer after meeting the phase one £141k funding target on crowdfunding website Spacehive(You can visit to see the campaign and watch their mini-film which features some heavyweight support in the form of 2012 Olympics opening ceremony creator and film-maker Danny Boyle.) The Line will show existing works of 'modern and contemporary' sculpture over a 3-year period as well as a new commission, along a route following the line of the Meridian. This will create a link between the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and the O2 in North Greenwich, south east London

The Line planned route

Works will be selected by a panel through an open submission process. The selection panel will include artist Mark Wallinger, Line co-founder Megan Piper, collector Anita Zabludowicz, art critic Richard Cork, a local resident (tick) and chair of a charity developing a new 'cultural quarter' (it's a 'thing' now) at Cody Dock, Omar Kholief, curator at the Whitechapel Gallery and Cllr Conor McAuley from Newham Council. 

It seems to me quite a curious and old-fashioned project, as rather than commissioning new site-specific works for the place (which is much more difficult), its focus is on siting primarily existing work - juxtaposing them with the environment and any other nearby artworks. Any resonances at all with the location of the artworks will be entirely accidental. While it is a noble aim to show work that would otherwise be in storage, for me this project primarily misses the point (and surely the real opportunity and excitement) of artwork in the public realm - new site-specific work responds to the space it is commissioned for, and if it is successful, has a special resonance in that place accordingly. While this approach can be more expensive it would still be possible to put forward an incredibly exciting programme for £500k, particularly if some works were well-integrated into the landscape and therefore into the landscape budgets. As there are 2 phases and phase 1 is £140k, I would imagine £500k is close to what they are aiming for. The selection of pre-made work also limits the possibilities for engagement with the work as the only way of engaging with it is to go and look at the finished work (I wondered about this lack of engagement opportunity and thought perhaps it might explain why they had no Arts Council funding.) There are so many more engagement opportunities which could be investigated when new work is being commissioned, during the process of drawing up the brief, and during the development and making of the work.

I'd be interested to know The Line's criteria for selecting the sites and also the work to occupy sites which they were not created for (presumably they want work that has been created to go anywhere - a rich person's garden, Chatsworth etc). But the open submission process is also interesting - which well known artists submit work this way? None! With a high public profile project such as the Fourth Plinth several well known artists may be asked to develop a proposal. But do they all enter work into the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition? No they don't, because they don't have to - they already have offers of exhibitions and at least one private gallery showing their work. So presumably the galleries will be submitting their work for this show based on what they have left hanging around? Is this 'leftovers' approach really the right one for such an important route and collection of sites? It reminds me of the Cass Sculpture Foundation approach or the recent Tony Craggs on show near the V&A.  It raises my suspicions about how transparent the selection process will really be - presumably the organisers are already tapping up the artists whose work they really want to show, with a few spaces left for everyone else. I would prefer they didn't bother with this pretence of anyone being able to submit work - it clearly isn't hoped or anticipated that a whole group of new young artists' work will be shown if they are offered a Damien Hirst or a Michael Craig-Martin. 

It also seems that it is presumed the works will happily be lent for free for 3 years by the artists and art collections and therefore the artists won't receive any payment except for the, clearly immense, glory of having their work displayed in a public place. How many emerging artists can afford to create bronzes etc if not for commission (and therefore already sold)? There will be a fairly limited number of young artists whose work will be suitable - the only way these artists will get a look in is with the new commission being offered (I await details of the budget and brief). The approach taken will be most suited to an artist such as Charles Hadcock who creates very large bronze sculptures.

The project is clearly a reflection of the experience its creators, Megan Piper and Clive Dutton. Megan is a previous Momart employee (so clearly focused on art that is 'stuff' to be moved about, bought and sold, stored and shown). Megan founded The Piper Gallery which was open for 18 months and closed in December 2013. Clive Dutton is an  ex-local authority regeneration specialist who was involved with the regeneration legacy of East London and previously worked for the London Borough of Newham, and Birmingham Council. 

Two of the funders who have contributed on the Spacehive campaign are quite fascinating - one 'R. Todd Ruppert' has contributed a staggering £44k, and the venture capitalist 'Frederic de Mevius' a further £10k. R. Todd Ruppert, if he is this man I googled, has the most astonishing hair and teeth I have seen for a while: 
Used car salesman from the 1950s, anyone?
I kept wondering why they would have invested so much money in an arts project, and I can only guess that there are perhaps links with property they own, the value or aspect of which will be enhanced by the artworks being in situ.

I was also interested to see that Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the architects who have 'come on board to create visual material for the project', have also managed to cagole £16k out of their charitable foundation towards the project - so that's handy isn't it? (Although, admittedly, it's nice to see developers/architects putting their hands in their pockets in the name of art, so I shouldn't be complaining. I guess they too must have an interest benefitted by the project - a few developments along the route - or else they will be able to reduce their section 106 agreement by pointing out that they have already contributed towards public art through this project.)

Lastly I am intrigued by the 'project managers' Nous Collaborative, who describe themselves as 'the only brand space agency that centres around bringing brands to life through collaborations with the world's best architects'. Sounds interesting. Just remind me what a 'brand space agency' is again?

I will be fascinated to see how this project develops and whether the quality of the work will win me over despite the approach they have taken.