City Sculpture Project (1972) and Nicholas Monro’s King Kong

By Wood, Jon | The Sculpture Journal, September 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

City Sculpture Project (1972) and Nicholas Monro’s King Kong


Wood, Jon, The Sculpture Journal


In the summer of 1972 sculpture was being discussed up and down Britain. City Sculpture Project, which was the reason for this debate, was an ambitious scheme that commissioned large-scale sculptures and installed them across eight cities.1 Funded by the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation, the South African cigarette company that was a part of British American Tobacco, it was the brainchild of Jeremy Rees (1937-2003) and was coordinated by his colleague Anthony Stokes (b. 1946). Both were visionary exhibition organizers. Based at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, where Rees was founding director, the pair worked hard to bring sculptures and sites together, liaising not only with sculptors and local authorities, but also with the Arts Council of Great Britain and with Michael Kaye (1925-2008), the director of the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation (est. 1965) based on London's Baker Street.2 The former supported the project and a travelling exhibition of photographs and models that documented and introduced the project to viewers throughout 1972, beginning at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.3

Sculptors and sculptures were selected from artists' proposals in autumn 1971 by the project's selectors: Jeremy Rees, the sculptor Phillip King (b. 1934), who worked at St Martin's School of Art in London, and Stewart Mason (1906-83), who was then director of the Leicestershire Education Department and chairman of the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design. Mason was committed to art education and already had good links to the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation through his work with Bryan Robertson (1925-2002), director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery from 1952 to 1968, where, in 1967, the exhibition British Painting and Sculpture from the Collection of the Leicestershire Education Authority showcased the collection Mason was developing.4 As King, who already knew Mason from their work as Tate Trustees at the time, later recalled: 'Stewart was very measured, very quiet and wanted to do something for the world outside London.'5 Through Mason and Rees, City Sculpture Project was animated from the outset with a strong educational charge.6

Between March and May 1972 sculptures were placed in the busy centres of eight major cities for a period of six months. The ambition was that they should be new and tailor-made for their sites rather than just examples, or enlargements, of recent works. Sculptures by Kenneth Martin (1905-84) and Bernard Schottlander (1924-99) were installed in Sheffield; by Luise Kimme (1939-2013) in Newcastle; by William Turnbull (1922-2012) in Liverpool; by Nicholas Monro (b. 1936) and Robert Carruthers (1925-2009) in Birmingham; by Barry Flanagan (1941-2009) and Brower Hatcher (b. 1942) in Cambridge; by Peter Hide (b. 1944) and Bryan Kneale (b. 1930) in Southampton; by William Pye (b. 1938) and Garth Evans (b. 1934) in Cardiff; and by John Panting (1940-74) and Liliane Lijn (b. 1939) in Plymouth. At the end of six months, the 'city councils, industrial and commercial organisations or private citizens'7 had the option of buying their sculptures and having them on more permanent display. None did, much to the disappointment of the artists and organizers, and all the sculptures were relocated elsewhere, sold and, in some cases, vandalized or destroyed.

City Sculpture Project marks a crucial moment in the history of public sculpture in Britain and is an important chapter more generally within the field of public art and urban space.8 It was concerned with finding specific busy and central urban locations for a new kind of specially commissioned, contemporary, largely abstract sculpture that was disconnected from older, traditional commemorative rationales, and removed from the associative imagery of the monument. Artists and organizers worked together to decide upon the precise locations for the works across the eight cities. The project invited the exploration of new relationships between objects and contexts by artists and those encountering the sculptures through open and liberated viewing experiences. …

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