Broadgate Art Trail: Broadgate the place to be?
If you want to see some truly expressive and free (in the sense of liberated, as well as costless) works of art in East London, simply walk down Brick Lane or Shoreditch High Street and notice the walls covered in iconic, original and beautiful street art from world famous artists. Broadgate has a lot of competition to draw an audience to the new public art commissions which hope to “make Broadgate the place to be”.
Broadgate has recently announced its new Art Trail, which brings together over 16 modern artworks across the 32-acre plot known as the Square Mile.
As is so often the case with public and corporate art, few of the pieces do much to impose themselves upon their surroundings. During this afternoon’s press tour, artist Danny Lane (who conceived and constructed Colour Eclipse for the Broadgate Tower) spoke of the interplay of a work with its environment. In the case of Colour Eclipse, the labour intensive circular stain glass windows create a more aesthetically pleasing view within the lift lobbies, as well as creating satisfying reflective patterns about the floor and ceiling. Likewise, Stephen Cox’s Water Feature in Exchange Square has a refreshing and cooling effect on the busy square.
However, it could be argued that these works are architectural items of skilful craftsmanship before they are art. Again, this may be the case for the Finsbury Avenue Lit Floor designed by SOM and Maurice Brill Lighting Design. The previously disused and dullish square has been newly animated with multi-coloured and always changing LED light settings. Again, a nice architectural touch, but can we call it art?
There are arguably two pieces to really bother looking at; the first is Fernando Botero’s brilliantly playful and humorous Broadgate Venus. The Columbian-born artist originally trained to become a bullfighter before studying art. This is one of the only sculptures to truly evoke any vivacity, decadence or flavourful creativity. Passing commuters evidently love to interact with the cheeky reclining nude (a giant rotund woman, half way between a cheery baby and the lions of Trafalgar Square) frequently placing ice creams, coffees and sandwiches into her giant outstretched hand. The second is Ian Davenport’s Poured Paint, Red, White, Red, which examines one of the artists favourite themes: the exploration of the limitations and possibilities of paint. Here, a strange illusion of depth is created because of incredibly subtle differences in shade. Davenport explained that the piece requires the viewer to slow down – a pleasant addition to a commercial environment.
However, one of the problems with public art is that it is easily passed by unexamined and not understood. Few of the pieces on the Broadgate Art Trail include plaques with statements or interpretations – the general public will not be so lucky as to have the artists personally explain their intentions and working practices. It might be nice to see this addition to the Trail, which would create an unusual half-way point between a public art installation and a gallery, although, visitors to the area can pick up a free printed guide to the works in the newly developed Broadgate Welcome Centre.
Also included on the trail are three pieces of the BT ArtBox project, which celebrates 25 years of Childline. Contributing artists applied their designs to the iconic BT red phone box. The Upcoming spoke to the bright young men behind the particularly eye-catching box on Finsbury Avenue Square: three students of Manchester Metropolitan University whose unique computer program connects a camera to an LED board, which projects LED outlines and negatives of passers-by on the sides of the phone box. It was difficult to follow even the layman’s explanation the lads offered, but it was clear that a great deal of programming know-how and thinking outside of the box (no pun intended) went into the design! And these guys are thinking big – considering how their technology can be extended to gigs and nightclubs, where the software can interface with a heat sensor and even a musical beat.
Broadgate Art Curator Rosie Glenn commented that: “This is not art as wallpaper and we see, time and time again…” As the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition currently showcases, there is a major blurring between architecture and art, but some of the pieces on Broadgate’s Art Trail are somewhat overshadowed by the stunning buildings that surround them. The claim that the artists on display are “often controversial” is debatable. If controversial artists have been involved, their more conservative pieces are on display in Broadgate.