Historic England’s exhibition, ‘Out There: Our Post-War Public Art’, which has just opened at Somerset House, London, highlights the fates and fortunes of sculptures and reliefs created and installed across the country over the last 70 years. Whilst some have been saved, celebrated and are widely loved, many pieces of our public art have been lost, damaged, moved or destroyed.
To prepare for the exhibition, Historic England put out an appeal for information on missing or unidentified works, and received a much greater response than they anticipated. With the help of organisations such as the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (partners in The Sculpture Project), Historic England has tracked down works that had previously been thought to be lost forever.
I was recently told about a missing sculpture last seen in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1980s. Antony Gormley’s sculpture A View, A Place was one of a number of art works sited at the Stoke-on-Trent National Garden Festival, which was held in the city from 1st May to 26th October 1986. A View, A Place, a life-sized lead, fibreglass and plaster statue, was positioned at the Festival’s highest point looking out over the Fowlea Valley, next an OS trigonometry marker-stone.
Apparently, after the festival had closed, the statue was removed from its position, but its current whereabouts are unknown. There is no mention of the sculpture on Antony Gormley’s website. The site is now completely enclosed by woodland, although the OS marker stills remains.
Update (9 September 2016): I am very happy to say that I have been contacted by Vivien Lovell who was the Sculpture Coordinator for the Stoke-on-Trent National Garden Festival in 1986 and commissioned the Antony Gormley 'A View, a Place' amongst many other artworks. Vivien reports that the sculpture 'was damaged towards the end of the Festival and returned to Antony when the Festival ended. The hollow eyes of the lead sculpture had become distended by people poking their fingers into the work. I photographed the damage and sent slides to Antony and he and I agreed that the sculpture should be de-installed and returned to him at his studio. ... The work in question by Antony Gormley was not a purchase commission for permanent installation: the artist was paid a facility fee to create the work as a temporary piece on the basis that it was returned to him after the Festival.' Antony Gormley has confirmed with Vivien that the sculpture was returned to him at the time and is still in his storage.
Many thanks to Vivien for this most useful update.
Some of the other artworks from the National Garden Festival still exist and have been re-sited around the City:
Her Head by Dhruva Mistry, is now installed in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Commissioned for the National Garden Festival in 1986 with funds from the Henry Moore Foundation, the bronze sculpture was donated to the City of Stoke-on-Trent in 1987.
Capo by Vincent Woropay, is now installed in Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent. This colossal brick head of Josiah Wedgwood was in storage for many years before being repositioned in 2009. It is now sited by Etruria Hall, previously the home of Josiah Wedgwood and close to the location of his 1769 pottery factory. Etruria Hall (which can be seen in the background) is now part of a hotel.
Tree Thought by Denise de Cordova, is now installed in the Secret Garden at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. Made from Ancaster Stone, a Jurassic oolitic limestone about 170 million years old, from Lincolnshire.
Katey Goodwin, Art UK Head of Research & Digitisation and Project Manager for The Sculpture Project