Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Disappearing public art

English Heritage is on a quest to find publicly-funded sculpture which has been removed and not replaced for various reasons. The usual story is that art-works have been created or donated to decorate a public space which has since been redeveloped, so that the statue or whatever has to be put into storage. Rarely, if the statue is of bronze or other metal of intrinsic value, it has been stolen in order to melt down.

Some might wish the latter fate on the statue of Howel Gwyn in Neath's Victoria Gardens (see correspondence in the Ferret) but instead it has been cleaned. However, Neath stands to lose another work of public art if the county borough is not vigilant. Just over fifty years ago, BP presented the town with a metal statue representing a crystal lattice. In the reorganisation before last, I think it was, the statue was displaced and put into storage. Keith Davies and I, then county borough councillors, were assured in 2009 by the officer in charge of Neath Port Talbot's estate that it was still there. We await confirmation that it will feature in the completed Neath town centre redevelopment, as a reminder of what prosperity the now-departed BP brought to the region.

There have been some famous rescues in south Wales. The romance of Old Nick's adornment of Swansea Market has been extensively documented. More typical is the story of the aluminium sculpture by Peter Nicholas, representing a flight of gulls, which was put up when the terminal building of Cardiff airport was first built near the village of Rhoose. When the terminal was expanded and moved to the other side of the airfield, ignorant demolition contractors threw the art-work into a skip. I am fairly certain that the sculpture was recovered, renovated and reinstalled in the new terminal, but it is practically impossible to find a reference on the Web.

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