The Problem of Public Sculpture

City-sculptures-kingkongJon Day at the New York Review of Books:

One of the few original works to survive the intervening years (most have been lost or destroyed—the exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute consists mainly of plans, photographs, and maquettes) is Michael Monro’s equally blatant King Kong, a huge fiberglass gorilla originally installed outside the Bull Ring, a Brutalist shopping center in Birmingham. It now stands—face grimacing, arms stretched in welcome—outside the Henry Moore Institute. Like Kimme, Monro thought obviousness was what the people wanted. “In this case they will like him won’t they?” he said at the time. “Because they can understand it and appreciate it. He’s a giant gorilla.”

Monro was only half right. Though children enjoyed playing on King Kong, and a pair of disgruntled builders climbed it as part of a protest for better compensation and working conditions a few months after it was installed (placing a trowel in its hand and a hardhat on its head), the public didn’t seem to warm to it particularly. At the end of the six months there was a half-hearted campaign and public collection to keep King Kong in Birmingham, but only one person, a crossing guard named Nellie Shannon, gave any money to the cause. Her £1 donation was later returned.

more here.