Arts

The winner of the 2018 What’s That Thing? Award for bad public art is…

8 December 2018

9:00 AM

8 December 2018

9:00 AM

Not a bad year for the award. Honourable mentions must go to the landfill abstractions of Oxford’s new Westgate Centre, to the bees that have appeared in Manchester’s streets to promote the ‘unique buzz’ of the city and to Gillian Wearing, a once decent conceptual artist who has taken to sculpture like a cat to water with her statue of Millicent Fawcett (see p29).

Nothing, however, brought more mush to our towns than the first world war commemorations. As Simon Jenkins wrote in these pages, ‘reaching for a grand sweeping gesture, something “profound”, is too tempting’ in commissions about war. ‘The search for wishy-washy universals soaks up all the energy and bromides usually result.’


Two artists who were tempted, fatally, were Mark Wallinger and Paul Cummins. Cummins’s ‘Weeping Windows’ installation, in which poppies gushed and spurted from buildings, was cheaply melodramatic and offensively literal, making explicit what is implicit in every poppy.

Worse even than that Grand-Guignol act was Mark Wallinger’s ‘One World’, a football made to resemble a globe — because ‘it’s time to stop fighting and start playing’. A spectacularly trite idea, but also profoundly stupid. An art work about peace that encourages us to kick the hell out of the earth? Prize-winning dumbness, that.

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