My Favourite London Art Installations
The challenge of filling the Tate Modern’s vast turbine hall has only been met with complete success a couple of times. many of the installations have looked lost in the space. Kara Walker’s giant ceramic fountain fits well inside the hall, but its meaning – something to do with slavery – is obscure and it’s simply not very good. The point would have been better made if it didn’t look like a child’s plasticine model writ large.
So which big installations really worked? For me, apart from works by Christian Marclay, the fabulous cloud you walked through in a giant glass box and the leasing of Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth in one hour slots to any Londoner, there was the gigantic Weather Project sun by Olafur Eliasson that turned the hall into a pagan celebration and was instantly adored by visitors.
The other instant hit was the filling of the Tower of London’s moat with millions of blood-red ceramic poppies, a moving tribute to lost lives called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper. Each poppy was sold off after to raise money for veterans. Finding places in the chaotic, crowded city for large public artworks is tricky, so artists have to be inventive.
I also like the rain storm you couldn’t get soaked in by Random International at Barbican. This room was filled with tiny sensors that kept you dry wherever you walked so that you emerged without a drop of water on you. It makes sense that in a city of damp and mist we celebrate the weather that creates London’s unique light, which is drained of bright colouring, producing muted, atmospheric landscapes.
We like to engage with and participate in art more than we ever used to. Perhaps populism has in this case moved us away from academic abstract art. The worst example I can think of was at the Camden art gallery, and consisted of a forty foot-long wooden beam with a piece of nylon rope tied around one end. It came accompanied with pages of pseudo-historical justification about what it was trying to say. Camden was also responsible for the rash of hideous sculptures dotting its parks, all part of the same grand commission, which I can only assume was part of a money laundering operation. This one became known locally as the ‘Land Fart’. Oddly, it has never been properly vandalised.