Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Britain's King Kong: A History of Nicholas Monro’s King Kong

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Britain's King Kong: A History of Nicholas Monro’s King Kong

Article excerpt

This article hopes to demonstrate that the various locations of Nicholas Monro's King Kong sculpture are as unusual and noteworthy as the work itself. There are pockets of genuine affection in the areas where the sculpture has been installed, and a small but significant national cultural legacy has been created, as evidenced by the sculpture's occasional mentions in the popular media.

Monro conceived and built the sculpture in his workshop in Hungerford, Berkshire, at some point during the six-month commission period that preceded March 1972.1 The commission period was stipulated by the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation, by which time Birmingham City Council had already agreed to accept Monro's work. The sculpture was originally entitled Gorilla, and although the similarity to the iconic film character King Kong was obviously intentional, it has never officially been known by this name. However, in interviews at the time Monro refers to the sculpture as King Kong so we can assume that he had no objections to its unofficial naming.2 Although more stylized than its cinematic counterpart, Monro's King Kong does bear a similarity to a Danish poster promoting the original film, with the gorilla in the artwork displaying fiery red eyes and a more cartoonish appearance.3

Once completed, King Kong made its way to Birmingham by road via Swindon and Bristol on 10 May 1972. That same day, the Birmingham Evening Mail reported that the original intention was to transport the sculpture upright, but practicalities meant that it was instead transported on its back on an open lorry. Quite sensibly, an unnamed spokesman was quoted in the article as observing that transporting it upright would have 'provided almost insurmountable problems'.4 The Daily Mirror detailed that the journey was completed more quickly than expected, and the sculpture had to wait on its back in a lay-by for two hours until the Birmingham traffic cleared. Once on the road again, a police convoy ushered King Kong into his new Birmingham home that evening, and he reached Manzoni Gardens at precisely 7.05 p.m.5

Manzoni Gardens, located directly next to the Bull Ring in Birmingham, had been chosen as the site after negotiations between the council and the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation during the commissioning period.6 The gardens were named after Herbert Manzoni, the controversial city engineer and surveyor of Birmingham between 1935 and 1963. Manzoni's vision for Birmingham was one of modernism,7 and his sweeping architectural changes and slum clearances left many unhappy about the brushing aside of both the city's history and its communal ways of life.8 Manzoni's oft-quoted vision for Birmingham centred on a philosophy of questioning the value of tangible links with the past, 'noting that "they are often more sentimental than valuable"'.9 He described Birmingham as having 'little of real worth in ... architecture' and set about building a grand vision of a futuristic city replete with new tower blocks, road systems and the redeveloped Bull Ring.10

Of the many redevelopments that took place in 1960s Birmingham, the Bull Ring shopping centre was one of the most controversial.11 Taking land from surrounding areas traditionally used for outdoor markets, the city's vision was to provide a modern and advanced shopping experience which separated traffic and pedestrians, yet allowed people to park as close as possible to where they needed to be. From a 1960s perspective, when car ownership was still limited, this idea provoked disquiet among many Birmingham residents who not only struggled to reach the Bull Ring but who also felt disorientated by the speed of change in the city centre.

It was into this new vision of the future that King Kong was delivered on the evening of 10 May 1972. It can be assumed that the erection and securing of the sculpture in Manzoni Gardens occurred either that night or early the next day, as newspaper reports from 11 May already show it being admired by the public in situ. …

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