Re Views: Artists and Public Space.
Black Dog Publishing, 2005. 182pp. £19.95 Despite the grandiloquent title, this book is in fact dedicated solely to projects enabled by visual arts agency Artpoint in south-east England. In that ubiquitous trend towards corporate self-celebration in the arts, it marks a decade of Artpoint commissions by featuring 10 case studies, with commentaries from the artists involved and a range of curators and writers.
I had a real sense of dread when I started reading the introduction by Artpoint's director, Louise O'Reilly.
She has swallowed the whole arts administrator's lexicon, complete with its tiresome relativist and politically mediated cant. She writes:
'Artists are aesthetes, Renaissance men, heroines, dilettantes, visionaries, romantics, grafters, activists, gurus, con-artists, enfants terribles, martyrs, populists, manipulators, agitators, voyeurs, celebs, agents provocateurs, makers, thinkers, speculators, rebels, mavericks.' Its catch-all litany, meant to imply the author's breadth of perception and inclusiveness, is a classic example of the increasingly frequent and unfortunate tendency of arts administrators to attempt writing. It even ends with the 'children are our future' schtick.
Thankfully, you turn the page and there's a picture of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. It is accompanied by a witty and unpredictable excursus by Edward Allington, who uses the car as an analogy to the idea of a work of art in the public environment and then takes an engagingly flaky run through Japanese ceramics, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and land-artist Robert Smithson. What a relief.
Also worthwhile are many of the artists' commentaries on their projects, such as that by Simon Read along the Thames Path, which is accompanied by an interesting overview by Stephen Turner, refreshingly written in the present tense.
John Kippin's work at Greenham Common - and Ian Walker's commentary on it - bring an edgy political dimension to the book which is nicely balanced by projects such as the nature-inspired and elegiac work of Peter Randall-Page in his massive granite sculpture, Ebb and Flow, at Newbury Lock.
No book on this subject could fail to mention the role of art in hospitals and this is illustrated by Sasha Ward's vibrant glass screen at the Great Western Hospital, Swindon.
Unfortunately, in concentrating solely on Artpoint projects, important recent commissions in this field, such as Donald Urquhart's The Sanctuary at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (AJ 24.02.05), are neglected.
This book therefore provides some valuable material from the field of public art in contemporary Britain, but there is still plenty of room for a more ambitious, critical publication.
One key theme is how artists and landscape architects are increasingly moving into similar areas of operation.
A better introduction might have gone some way to outlining some of the bigger issues, but in its absence at least the case histories give this book some value.
Neil Cameron is an Edinburghbased writer on architecture and art