A solitary door stands half-open in its frame in the church gardens of St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, perhaps hinting of another spiritual world that could be found by the City workers or Polish builders sitting in the gardens if they were brave enough to push it open and enter through it. The opening door also announces the arrival of 20 sculptures and installations by 17 international artists, located in busy streets against the backcloth of the historic and new architecture of the City of London, with the further addition of a large number of sculptural cranes adding the next generation of buildings, in Sculpture in the City 2016, one of the best and consistent public programmes in the UK.
Gavin Turk’s bronze door in the churchyard is aptly titled “Ajar”. Many of the sculptures link with the history and environment of the City and of the people who work there. Outside Lloyds of London, Anthony Caro’s bright red “Aurora” celebrates the link between insurance and shipping with a mooring buoy at its heart, while Benedetto Pietromarchi’s busts “Of Saints and Sailors” are of Filipino sailors with whom he shared a voyage between Uruguay and the Netherlands, set on plinths decorated with chains and other relics of the sea and the nautical world these men inhabit.
William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx celebrate the world of trade and enterprise in “Fire Walker” though the sculpture does not represent City financial traders but a female street vendor in Johannesburg and Huma Bhabha’s “The Orientalist” perhaps on the City’s links with the Far East, but also the contradiction between immense power and frailty as that power disappears like dust.
Outside the “Gherkin”, Jaume Plensa’s massive head “Laura”, changes form as the viewer moves around it, as do many of the buildings in the City, while Giuseppe Penone has created the impossible – a tree which has lost all its leaves holding boulders of great weight, as if washed onto it by some great tsunami and Jurgen Partenheimer’s towering column of blue cubes “Axis Mundi” represents a vertical bridge between Earth and heaven.
Shan Hur’s “Broken Pillar” incorporates objects that relate to its location and invite the viewer to connect and examine past history while Mat Collinshaw’s “Magic Lantern Small”, originally commissioned for the Victoria and Albert Museum, echoes the Gothic architecture found through the city. Looking to the future, the Recycling Group’s “Falling into Virtual Reality” hanging from the roof of the Leadenhall Market considers what archaeologists in the future will find left behind by the digital city. Ugo Rondinone’s white masks from the series “Sunrise”, where he created one sculpture for each month of the year, have on the one hand the monumentality of ancient carvings from Easter Island while on the other their surface and colour is suggestive of snowmen – an exploration of the contrast between permanence and transience.
Another great year for this programme, with descriptive plaques at each location and maps leading the visitor from one to the next, making it easy to visit them all.