Sculpture in the City

  1. Home
  2. London
  3. Arts & Culture
  4. Sculpture in the City

EC3 transforms into an urban outdoor gallery

The City, or EC3 as the corporates are now calling it, is dense with iconic architecture - the Gherkin brushing close with Heron Tower, the Leadenhall Building (known as “The Cheese Grater”), the Walkie-Talkie. All these very sculptural buildings make an interesting setting, an “urban outdoor gallery space” for art. Sculpture in the City, now in its 8th edition, has grown into a summer staple for London art lovers. This year is the biggest display yet, with 18 art works spread out further across the Square Mile than ever, including 4 brand new locations. 9 of the 18 artworks are by emerging and established female artists, making this the highest number of women represented. In another new venture, two of the artworks are sound projects, bang on trend with sound becoming a positively booming, increasingly popular medium in the art world.

Sculpture in the City is obviously very instagrammable and has grown quite popular on social media, with many people, tourists and resident office workers alike, sharing their photos under #sculptureinthecity. There are some big names of the contemporary art world taking part and you can discover famous artworks for free just by exploring the city. You may get run over by a few stressed out suited city workers rushing past an original Tracy Emin, because they are, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw, “sooo busy”, but with the glorious sunshine bouncing off the glass skyscrapers, a tour of the artwork is a lovely way to spend an hour and see a familiar London setting animated by strange and wonderful objects.

Thomas J. Price with Numen (Shifting Votive Three) at 1 Gret St Helen's, EC3A 6 HX

Start off with the Numen, three large cast aluminium heads by Thomas J Price. Numen means a “divine presence’ and Price is questioning who we look up to with admiration and worship, and if we can shift these unconscious understandings of what is worthy of sitting on a marble pedestal. Nancy Rubins also uses aluminium, a very modern material, for her Crocodylius Philodendrus, a cluster or a tornado of animal shapes balanced precariously. Body by Jean-Luc Mouléne, shaped to resemble the curves of automobiles, interacts wonderfully with the yellow beams of the Leadenhall Building behind it - a beautiful coincidence. Jyll Bradley created her piece Opening the Air to be enjoyed by by-passers on the ground as well as by the office workers from up high in the towers. Her field of fluorescent Plexiglas discs works as a giant sundial, changing appearance throughout the day.

Opening the Air by Jyll Bradley, St Helen's Square, EC3V 4 QT

Inside Leadenhall Market, look up to see I’M STAYING, a neon sculpture that travels and changes location by democratic vote. Almost too subtle to notice and yet immensely intriguing is A World Wide Web of Somewheres by Amanda Lwin. Inspired by Polynesian fishing nets, whose lines and knots were also maps of wind and sea currents, Lwin’s Worldwide Web looks abstract, but is actually a map of London’s subterranean infrastructures such as the tube and sewage system. Suspended above our heads, the structure is both robust and fragile, resembling a safety net - we are in the insurance district after all - or a trap to get entangled in, symbolising our dependency on systems.

A Worldwide Web of Somewheres by Amanda Lwin, Leadenhall Market, EC3V 1 LT

For the first sound work, you need to find the very hidden Hartshorn Alley to hear an eerie recording of 10 men whistling the theme tune of the Hollywood film The Great Escape. It is very subtle, and most of the busy office workers, who know all the hidden alleys and use them as short cuts, probably won’t notice. Another secret passageway, connecting Bury Court and Bury Street is illuminated by one of Tracy Emin’s super famous Love Letter neons. So emotional, so moving and damn sexy (if one can say this about an art work) the iconic piece could have been hung somewhere in pride of place but actually develops a very special kind of magic in the evenings, when a mysterious pink light comes shining out both ends of the alleyway.

Your Lips Moved Across My Face, Tracey Emin, Passageway connecting Bury Court & Bury Street, EC3A 7 HL

Another iconic female artist, Marina Abramović, is represented with the second sound piece, which is so lovely and beautiful, it is bound to make anyone smile. Tree was original presented in 1972 Belgrade as a protest piece, but today, in the middle of super busy Bishopsgate surrounded by aggressive traffic noise, the amplified bird sound coming from the tree seems to make more of a statement about nature in the middle of a stressful urban environment. The smokers from the close-by offices huddled under the tree probably feel soothed by the usually so intense Abramović.

Tree, Marina Abramović, outside 99 Bishopsgate

A very exciting emerging artist, Juliana Cerqueira Leite, has contributed Climb, a sculpture that could literally not be more phallic, but has been created by a female artist. Climb was made from the inside out, the artist locked in a wooden column filled with clay and then spending three days of extreme physical labour digging her way out. The surface of the clay took the imprint of her action - hands grabbing, feet scraping, elbows pushing. At the very top you can see the fingertips of the very slight artist, reaching and sliding off.

Climb, Juliana Cerqueria Leite, Mitre Square, EC3A 5DH

Art is always more enjoyable with some insight, so SITC is offering various walking tours led by artists, architects and gallerists. You can also download the popular arts app smartify which will give you information about each artwork on-site when you scan it. For the first time this year, SITC will host the City Sculpture Fest on 30 June with workshops, tours and family activities and on 21 July, SITC will join the Whitechapel Gallery for Nocturnal Creatures, a late-night contemporary arts festival, that will include even more new and exciting sound art and audio experiences.

Sculpture in the City is in various outdoor locations around EC3. For tours, events and more information visit the website.