Public art is always controversial. Try and please all of the people all of the time and you end up with the dreadful ‘Kiss’ sculpture in St Pancras the chicken tikka masala of art. The permanence of public art means you bequeath generations with for instance statues of dead generals. Kings Cross itself is actually named after a dreadful piece of public art – a widely ridiculed moument to King George IV that was pulled down to some popular acclaim:
'..a very uncomplimentary effigy of majesty; even the very cab-men grew critical; the watermen (aquarii) jeered; and the omnibus drivers ridiculed royalty in so parlous a state, at length the statue was removed in toto, or rather by piecemeal.' Illustrated London News 1845
We have some great bits of public art in Kings Cross such as the splendid typography of Edward Square, the Murals in Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens. Some hoped that the refurbishment of Kings Cross Square in front of the station would allow for an iconic piece. I would like something striking and modern – an angel of the north perhaps. But the people who love the Kiss at St Pancras would want a 100 ft bronze of a girl scratching her bum in a tennis outfit. No one would be happy. This is often why corporate public art is awful and inspired the corporate art destruction sequence in Fight Club.
Network Rail’s plans for the new square in front of Kings Cross are drab and unimaginative. There’s a blame game going on with Camden planners. Rumour circulates that a proposal for public art was turned down by planners.
So why not do something that is architecturally simple and uncontroversial and can accommodate a variety of tastes. Why can’t Kings Cross Square have a ‘Fifth Plinth’ a simple stock brick plinth on which over the years changing pieces of public art can be installed. Like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. The plinth could show art from the destinations that Kings Cross reaches – bring art from Grantham, Hull and Berwick on Tweed into London. It could be a beacon of the North perhaps. The students from St Martins could have an annual slot. It could be sponsored, competed etc.
Running costs could be kept down by Network Rail doing the public liability Insurance, CSM and the Guardian running the judging and selection process invovling local people and commuters. CSM must have the skills for moving and locating art installations. And as each piece of art is temporary the art won’t need planning permission.All for the cost of a modest plinth made of reclaimed stock brick.
It would be a tiny fraction of Network Rails spend on Kings Cross refurbishment. How about it? Let us know in the comments.