Public sculpture is always divisive, and it tends to be even more so when it’s very large. For some years now, there has been a long-running scrap going on about Michael Warren’s controversial Gateway sculpture, which was installed in Dun Laoghaire in 2002. The eight-tonne sculpture, which was in two parts, was 20 feet high, and while some people liked it, many did not. Following complaints from locals and some councillors, it was taken down in 2009 and placed in storage. In 2013, councillors voted to return the piece to Warren, in exchange for a new sculpture. Gateway is apparently now in Britain. This week, Warren said that Angel Negro, his new bronze, would be the replacement sculpture.
I am going to put my fair and slender neck above the parapet and declare that I am glad Gateway is gone. I did not like that sculpture. I thought it was astounding ugly, and because it was so very big, it was impossible not to notice it. Looking at it temporarily depressed me. I know, I know, I’m a barbarian who doesn’t appreciate the finer things in life. But there you have it. Public art is made for the public, and this member of the public just didn’t like it.
The news about Warren's sculpture got me thinking about other pieces of public art that I don't like. While I am very fond of my home town of Ennis in Co Clare, I cannot abide the giant pair of cupped stone hands that were installed in the cathedral grounds there in 2008. To me, these disembodied mammoth hands by Shane Gilmore are creepy as hell, and again, so incredibly ugly they make my eyes hurt.
The tourists might love Jeanne Rynhart's Molly Malone, but I find that bosomy bronze is a vulgar and tasteless embarrassment, although I do like its nickname: The Tart with the Cart. Frankly, a statue of a leprechaun would be less offensively kitsch.
Also deeply depressing is the group of emaciated people that form Rowan Gillespie’s 1997 Famine Memorial on Dublin’s Custom House Quay. Why did we need such a literal interpretation of the disaster that was the potato famine? I hate this sculpture because to me it’s a crass attempt at emotional highjacking. You’re welcome.
Finally, the twee Hands Across the Divide statues in Derry by Maurice Harron is another aberration that never fails to make me grit my teeth when I see it. It's two men, reaching out hands to each other. Across a divide. It's clumsy and pointless and about as sophisticated a public statement on politics as Gerry Adam's tweets of his teddy bears are.
That’s my rant over. But there are plenty of other pieces of public art around the country and by roadsides and motorways that get people pretty worked up. There’s the big traffic-markings ball at Naas for starters. The bizarre half-sunken violin near Longford. And let’s not forget the spike in Dublin’s O’Connell Street, the Cailin Ban on Sandymount Strand and or looming series of moons on the motorway near Kinnegad.
Are there any pieces of public art that you dislike, and why?