Looking out for art

Sally Williams, Keeper of the Inventory

In September 2013, as reported in London Landscapes no.35, it was LPGT's turn to host the Annual Conference of the Association of Gardens Trusts. Our selected theme was 'Eastern Promise', culminating in a tour of the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as the prize draw. However, a trip around Canary Wharf's art-adorned public spaces was among the other East End site visits, and appeared to be a journey of discovery for both Londoners and non-Londoners alike. The 97-acre private estate is now reaching the 30-year anniversary of when its original master plan was drawn up and received planning permission, so it won't be long before Canary Wharf's public spaces will qualify for inclusion on the LPGT Inventory.

So, in thinking about a new, regular column in London Landscapes that looks at sculpture and other artworks in London's open spaces on the Inventory, what came immediately to mind was the public art collection at Canary Wharf. (My 'day job' is Public Art Consultant to Canary Wharf Group plc.) The vision of the new estate's developer, Paul Reichmann - and one of the reasons given for building into the sky - was to enable over a third of the site to be laid out with open spaces, squares and courtyards, as 'places for the people'. Early architectural drawings of the planned environment show works of art embellishing some of these spaces, and art was conceived as part of the estate from the word 'go'. Today, over 65 works by artists and designers make up the permanent art collection, many of which are located in the outdoor spaces between the tall buildings. Here is a whistle-stop tour of some of these.

The first garden one reaches when approaching from the west is Westferry Circus Gardens, completed in 1990 and designed to evoke a traditional London square. Here sculptures occupy two of the four hedged flower beds on the perimeter of the immaculate lawn: 'Sasso Cosmico' by Do König Vassilakis and 'Growth Form 2012' by Hugh Chapman. But the railings and gates of this pretty garden are also works of art, designed by Giuseppe Lund with a horticultural theme. Nearby, and quite tucked away, is Columbus Courtyard, a hard-landscaped space for which renowned jeweller Wendy Ramshaw designed a 15-metre long screen inspired by navigation and the voyages of Christopher Columbus. A monumental head inspired by classical antiquity by the recently deceased lgor Mitoraj and tall bronze planters by Tatiana Orloff are also found here.

The next major space is Cabot Square, a formal piazza with central fountain and one immediately recognizable work of art: Lynn Chadwick's 'Couple on Seat'. But a closer look reveals that the four cylindrical ventilator shafts, which service the car parks below, are in fact glass artworks in cast lead crystal by Jeff Bell; the shallow bronze planters are by well-known figurative sculptor Philip Jackson and the railings and lamp posts were specially designed for Canary Wharf with motifs recalling the area's industrial past as well as the estate master plan.

The focus of Canada Square Park is 'The Big Blue' by Ron Arad, designed to be viewed as much from above as from ground level, and even visible from the shopping mall below. Finally to Montgomery Square, which has an eclectic mix of work: a figurative statue of a centaur, again by Mitoraj, an abstract bronze by Eilis O'Connell, Suresh Dutt's steel sculpture that plays with notions of perspective and distortion, and two carved wooden pieces by Nigel Ross that function as seating. Jubilee Park, designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz, is the occasional venue for sculpture exhibitions and a plethora of other events; so it hosts no permanent artwork. A regularly-updated Art Map provides a free visitor guide and Canary Wharf has just published a new book about its permanent art collection: http://canarywharf.com/arts-events/art-on-the-estate/

Ideas for interesting works of art in parks and gardens around London to highlight in future issues will be more than welcome!