The City of London is well known for its public art and in particular its sculpture. Look around pretty much every nook and cranny and you’ll probably bump into a statue of some form or another.
Some of these have been around for a long time, all different shapes and sizes they’ve become part of the fabric of the city. Familiar sites and its not just a bunch of old men sitting on horseback or regal looking figures peering down on their subjects, London has a suprising amount of modern art.
And it’s some of these that we’ll look at today on our little abstract tour. Inspired by a recent trip to the Tate St. Ives and in particular, Barbara Hepworths old studio where a fantastic array of some of her bronze sculptures can be seen, I wanted to see what abstract sculpture might be seen today in and around the city.
And with that in mind I set off to find my list of the top ten abstract sculptures in the City of London (and by the City I really mean the square mile). The list is in no particular order but designed in such a way that if you really wanted to you’ll be able to make a nice little walk out of them starting at Aldgate tube station and finishing at Blackfriars.
1. Ridirich (1980) by Keith McCarter, Little Somerset Street (nearest tube – Aldgate)
Located in front of the old Aldgate bus station which is currently being revamped, Ridirich is a large bronze sculpture originally designed as the centrepiece for plaza between Little Somerset Street and the station. It looks slightly lost these days, hidden away and perhaps slightly forgotten as vast developments happen all around it, not least the complete transformation of the Aldgate roundabout and the station itself. I actually can’t find much about Ridirich online which is a shame because it’s an interesting piece.
2. Gilt of Cain (2008) by Michel Visocchio – Fen Court, Fenchurch Street (nearest tube Aldgate)
Walk a bit further down over the Aldgate roundabout and towards Fenchurch Street, a short journey down will take you to Fen Court. Also at the time of writing a place which is overshadowed by the development happening around it. Fen Court is a fascinating little find, it is in fact the former churchyard of St. Gabriel Fenchurch, destroyed in the great fire of London and now part of the parish of St. Mary Woolnoth. It’s a quiet little space for city workers to relax amongst the old tombs which can still be seen.
The Gilt of Cain is a commemoration of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in 1807 and was unveiled by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008. It’s a dramatic piece consisting of 17 stone pillars representing sugar canes which surround a slave auctioneers pulpit.
The location of this monument is no accident the rector of St. Mary Woolnoth John Newton was a former slaver turned abolitionist who worked with William Wilberforce in a crusade to ban the trade. The ‘Gilt of Cain’ refers to the poem by Lemn Sissay and extracts from the poem can be read on the pillars themselves.
3. Fulcrum (1987) by Richard Senna – Broadgate Circus (nearest tube Liverpool Street)
For the next sculpture head Fen Court towards the Gherkin and head for Bishopsgate. There find Liverpool Street station, enter through the Bishopsgate entrance and walk through in a straight line until you come out the other side. Confronting you will be the giant ‘Fulcrum’ dominating the entrance to Broadgate Circus.
Standing 55 feet high the sculpture is made up of five giant sheets of fabricated steel which shoot up into the sky. It’s a statement piece of public art and, as the Broadgate website seems to proudly boast, it’s the art equivalent of marmite. Walk into the middle of the giant sheets of steel and look up into the gap at the top, its suprisingly serene considering the bustle of life which walks past it daily.
4. Broadgate Art Trail, multiple works covering Broadgate Circle – Finsbury Avenue Square and Exchange Square (nearest tube Liverpool Street)
The Broadgate area is packed full of sculpture. So much so that there’s even a little art trail all of it’s own just covering the art around the Broadgate complex. Our next pieces can be found be turning right at Fulcrum and heading up the stairs into the Broadgate complex.
There on the mezzanine there are other sculptures which form part of the Broadgate art trail such as Barry Flanagans ‘Leaping Hare on Crescent and Bell’ to the right and walking around to the left, George Segals ‘Rush Hour’ depicting autonomon city workers traipsing to work. Actually one of my favourite pieces and admittedly not quite as abstract as the others but well worth a visit as the casts of the six figures battling the elements of the London weather were made from real people.
There are others too, a short walk away on Appold Street you can see ‘The Broad Family’ at the entrance to Exchange Squre by Xavier Corbero, a monolithic grouping of rock which when you pay attention to them take the form more and more of a family group. Check out this leaflet which tells you more about the Broadgate Art Trail.
5. Ritual (1969) by Antanas Brazdys – Coleman Street (nearest tube Moorgate)
Continuing on our journey and re-setting back to Fulcrum turn left from the station and walk up the steps heading along Blomfield Street towards London Wall. Once there turn right and cross over the road once you get to the junction with Moorgate. A turning on the left after the junction is Coleman Street and that’s where you need to be.
A short walk down Coleman street is the winner of the a Sunday Times competition for young sculptors in 1969 created by Lituanian born artist Antanas Brazdys. After winning the competition he was commissioned to create Ritual to stand in front of Woodgate House in London, the opposite end to where it is now. After redevelopment of the building it was re-sited to it’s current position in 2001.
Working in stainless steel Brazdys sculpture reflects the images of the buildings around it. To say that this is one of the oldest pieces of work on this particular jaunt, it looks as bright and shiny as the day it was first placed.
6. Glass Fountain (1963/64) by Allen David – Aldermanbury (nearest tube Moorgate)
Around the corner from Ritual on the opposite side of the building is the glass fountain by Allen David, one of the first pieces of contemporary art to be erected in the City. Head up the alley known as White Horse Yard up some steps and keep walking around the back of the Guildhall until you get to Aldermanbury. There is the fountain in a place called Three Nuns Court, still working and made up of slivers of green coloured glass with water falling into a black slate lined pond. It’s an odd looking structure and it doesn’t even appear to have a name other than ‘glass fountain’
7. Carter Lane and Peter’s Hill Public art (nearest tube St. Pauls)
Head down Aldermanbury now towards St. Pauls following the line of Milk Street and Bread Street until you come to Cannon Street. Once there turn right and walk towards the towering cathedral of St. Pauls. There an extensive landscaping project has over recent years transformed the area around St. Pauls with gardens and a whole series of public sculptures.
Needless to say there’s a lot to see around here but the place we’ll concentrate on for this is the area around Carter Lane known as the Carter Lane gardens which at one time was the old coach park for visitors. Also worth visiting is the area around Peters Hill which leads to the Millenium Bridge where a series of stainless steel spheres can be found all containing the reflections of the buildings around them.
I can’t find out much about the designers of these works but all were added as part of the wider landscaping project around here and at the very least make for some good photos with the reflections of St. Pauls around it.
8. Angel’s Wing (2000) by Thomas Heatherwick – Paternoster Square (nearest tube St. Pauls)
The next piece that we’ll have a look at around the St. Pauls area is Angel’s Wing in an alcove of Paternoster Square. The square is at the opposite side of the Cathedral from Carter Lane and is accessed via the old Temple Bar gate which once stood on Fleet Street but which is now here. Through the gate, an little alley on the left will take you into the alcove and there is the Angel’s Wing.
Needless to say there’s loads of other sculptures to see around the Paternoster Square area as well so take time to see those but the Angels Wing one is pretty impressive taking up the majority of the footprint of where it stands within the alcove. Standing up to 11metres high the work actually doubles as cooling vents for an electricity sub station.
9. Resolution (2007) by Anthony Gormley – Corner of St. Bride Street and Shoe Lane (nearest tube St. Pauls)
Come out of Paternoster Square via Ave Maria Lane towards Ludgate Hill and walk down and over Farringdon Road towards Fleet Street. Walk up a short while and take the turning to Shoe Lane. Walk up until you get to the corner of St Bride Street and there standing overlooking the valley which, at one point would have been the raging river Fleet, is a cast iron man created by Anthony Gormley.
The work by the creator of the famous Angel of the North in Newcastle is called Resolution and was created as part of the redevelopment of the Shoe Lane quarter.
10. Seven Ages of Man (1980) by Richard Kindersley – Baynard House, Queen Victoria Street (nearest tube Blackfriars)
Now head back down to Farringdon Road, either back the way you came or by following St. Bride Street to the junction of Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. Keep walking down the road towards the Thames and find the turning for the busy Queen Victoria Street.
The Seven Ages of Man can be found inside the courtyard of one of the City’s most horrendous buildings known as Baynard House. The building itself stands on the remains of the ancient scheduled monument of Baynards Castle, a Norman fort built at the same time as the White Tower in the Tower of London.
To have placed such a disaster on top of said monument is indeed a tragedy only slightly made up for by the work by Richard Kindersley standing in the middle of the brutalist courtyard. It’s easily accessible but not obvious from the outside you need to go into up to the first floor and there it is towering in the centre designed as a totem pole and inspired by lines contained within ‘As you like it‘ by Shakespeare.
The sculptures in this piece were visited and photographed on Sunday 30 August 2015, if you wanted to do this as a walk you should start from Aldgate tube and finish at Blackfriars. For more sculpture related Inspiring City articles check out these on the Frieze Art Fair, The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield and Ana Tzarev’s Love and Peace sculpture by the Tate Britain.
If you’d like more info about Ridirich, please take a look at my post ‘Aldgate’s Guild of Knights’ on the Footprints of London blog: http://footprintsoflondon.com/2016/02/aldgates-guild-of-knights/