Three public art collections

Today’s post is by Rebecca Farley, ICCHS PhD researcher.

Three public art collections

Over the summer months I’ve been out and about beyond my usual Newcastle-Gateshead research base, visiting a selection of UK towns and cities that positively describe themselves as holding public art collections – in the ‘art in the public realm’ sense rather than museum or gallery based artworks.

In the UK the word ‘collection’ is not one that has been commonly connected with public art practice. (Indeed there is quite strong resistance towards this term from some UK public art professionals I have spoken to.) The term is more accepted in the USA however, where cities both large and small, often describe and promote their public artworks as city or civic collections. In recent years a small number of UK towns and cities are also beginning to use the ‘public art collection’ label. Three of these places, Milton Keynes, Folkestone and Cardiff, were selected as sites for my own PhD research visits. The purpose of these was twofold: to explore these public art collections as they might be experienced on the ground; and to meet with some of the curators and local authority officers who have responsibility for their commissioning, presentation and ongoing management or care.

As you might imagine, these visits to three completely different places – a 1960s ‘new town’, a culturally regenerating south coast harbor town, and the capital city of Wales’ ­– uncovered a diverse picture of public art collection history, practice and approach.

In Milton Keynes the collection encompasses some 220 individual artworks including outdoor sculpture and interior artworks commissioned for some of its key public and cultural buildings. Situated both in Central MK and the wider borough these artworks date from the various different phases of the physical development of Milton Keynes, from the mid 1960s to the present day. Despite their very mixed pattern of private and public ownership and current custodianship, all are considered as part of the ‘MK collection’.

In Folkestone the public art collection (‘Folkestone Artworks’) is much smaller and younger. Linked to the commissioning for the Folkestone Triennial twenty-seven artworks have been permanently sited and ‘collected’ for the town since 2008. Rather than coming under a local authority remit (as in Milton Keynes and Cardiff) here the public art collection is developed and managed by an independent local charity, The Creative Foundation.

Cardiff’s public art collection is by far the oldest of the three I visited. Managed by the council’s planning department and based on its recently compiled Public Art Register this collection maps the development of public art in the city – its statues, monuments, memorials and art in architecture commissioning – over a 150-year timespan. This includes over 200 artworks sited in Cardiff city centre, the historic Civic quarter and around Cardiff Bay.

For individual reports on my encounters with these three public art collections visit my PhD research blog at:

Andre Wallace (1984) The Whisper, Milton Keynes Collection.

Andre Wallace (1984) The Whisper, Milton Keynes Collection.

Gordon Young (2013) MK Rose, Milton Keynes Collection.

Gordon Young (2013) MK Rose, Milton Keynes Collection.

Sarah Staton (2014) Steve, Folkestone Artworks.

Sarah Staton (2014) Steve, Folkestone Artworks.

Nathan Coley (2008) Heaven Is A Place Where Nothing Ever Happens, Folkestone Artworks.

Nathan Coley (2008) Heaven Is A Place Where Nothing Ever Happens, Folkestone Artworks.

Albert Hodge (1912) Mining, Cardiff Public Art Collection

Albert Hodge (1912) Mining, Cardiff Public Art Collection

Jean-Bernard Metals (2009) Alliance, Cardiff Public Art Collection.

Jean-Bernard Metals (2009) Alliance, Cardiff Public Art Collection.


Exhibition/Non-exhibition: Stretched Out

Today’s post is by Dr. Emma Coffield, ICCHS researcher


A few months ago, I was invited to take part in Exhibition/Non-exhibition: Stretched Out, a seminar organised by Jason E. Bowman, Julie Crawshaw and Mick Wilson (Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg), which aimed to draw together researchers and practitioners engaged in investigations of the artist-led, instituting, the curatorial, the exhibitionary and the ‘stretching’ of artistic practice beyond ‘art-making’.

Held at the first pavilion in the history of the Venice Biennale to be dedicated to artistic research, the seminar began with an introduction to the Stretched project (a three-year long inquiry into expanded artistic practice and artist-led cultures at Valand Academy) from Jason E. Bowman. Four papers followed: in the morning session I drew upon my PhD research to argue against any kind of artist-run ‘culture in common’ and for a more critical approach to collective action, while Megs Morley explored instituting as a form of resistance with reference to her extensive research-led practice. In the afternoon, the Italian curator Valario Del Baglivo questioned the need for permanent space and suggested alternative strategies of solidarity, and Dr. Georgina Jackson spoke of the potential of the political, and political agency, in exhibition-making.

Despite the varied nature of the presentations, during the discussions that followed (or during the ‘interrogative questioning’, as it was billed!) a number of key concerns came up, as expertly summarised by Prof. Andrea Phillips (Goldsmiths): how might we work together to maintain artist-run initiatives – and should we? How might the artist-led correlate with the idea of public space, and what do we lose by labelling it ‘artist-led’? How do institutional, economic, educational and structural formations limit the horizons of the possible – and why does knowledge ‘bleed out’ of the artist-led with every ‘new’ generation?

As for my own work, I’ve been thinking about how to move beyond the case study approach to engage more adequately with structural, cultural, social and political ideals of the artist, art and art-making for a while now – and I’m still not completely sure how to go about this – but I now have some intriguing possibilities to follow up, and a lot of reading to do. My thanks are due to all those who shared, very generously, their thoughts with me, and to Valand Academy in particular for the invitation.

Next week’s seminar, 17 June: Open-air museums – a destination in vogue for public art in urban districts

open-air museums

Please join us for another in our series of research seminars:

Open-air museums: a designation in vogue for public art in urban districts

Speaker: J. Pedro Lorente, Department of Art History, University of Saragossa

Wednesday 17 June
1 – 2pm
Room 1.06, 18 Windsor Terrace
All welcome

Art collections permanently exhibited in public spaces are sometimes called ‘open air museums”. This notion has been constructed over time, building on historical precedents and in dialectic interaction with other related concepts like ‘sculpture gardens’. The result is not a clear-cut definition, but a changing perception, carrying diverse connotations according to different languages and cultural contexts. The modern paradigm was set by Middelheim Open Lucht Museum created in 1950 by the municipality of Antwerp in a suburban park, emulated in the French-speaking University of Liège, since the creation in 1977 of a Musée en Plein Air in the campus of Sart Tilman; some features were slighly different in another famous instance, the Musée de sculpture à plein air de la Ville de Paris, inaugurated in 1980 on a riverbank between Île Saint-Louis and the Gare d’Austerlitz. But the triumph of a post-modern return to the city centre was heralded by the founding in 1972-79 of the polemical Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre in Madrid. It’s influence has been enormous in Spain and other Latin countries, where many collections of public art gathered as part of urban regeneration processes have been proudly labeled as museums. Are they?

DOUBLE DARE: DAY – Recording now live


On the 13th February, Emma Coffield chaired DOUBLE DARE: DAY – a sold out event discussing the ethos and practices of DIY culture with artists and musicians Graeme Durant, Andy Abbott and James Islip, at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The event was then followed by DOUBLE DARE: NIGHT – an evening of live performance in and around Graeme Durant’s exhibition.

You can now listen to a recording of the event, and watch the video for DOUBLE DARE: NIGHT, here:

PhD student contributes to book about artist Toby Phips Lloyd

Front cover: Desert Island

Front cover: Desert Island

ICCHS PhD student Emma Coffield was recently asked to contribute a book chapter to Desert Island, a publication about the artist Toby Phips Lloyd’s mixed-media installation ‘Desert Island’ (2013) exhibited at Empty Shop, Durham earlier this year.

Emma’s book chapter, ‘What Are You Doing Here? Identity Work and the Figure[s] of the Artist’ unpicks the varying artistic identities suggested by Lloyd throughout the work, from the artist-as-hero to the artist-as-trickster. Arguing that Lloyd tries on, and then rejects or undermines, each of these possible identities, Emma challenges the preconceptions that fix artists in time and space, and calls for new, more meaningful ways to be.

Desert Island is published by The Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University. Alongside Emma, other contributors include: Katherine Welsh (Curator at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art); Simon J James (Professor of Victorian Literature at the Department of English Studies, Durham University); Emma V Miller (Postdoctoral Tutor at Durham University); Mariann Hardey (Durham University Business School); William Viney (Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University); and Nick Malyan (Co-founder of Empty Shop CIC).

Desert Island (ISBN 978-0-9561840-2 3).

Heritage and Science: Working Together in the CARE of Rock Art

ICCHS has begun an exciting new project focussing on developing materials and research that will aid in the protection of delicate rock art in Northumberland and beyond.

Open air rock art is an iconic part of the UK’s prehistoric heritage, with 3500 panels still in existence that date from between 6000 and 3800 years ago. It is a common misconception that as this work has existing for so long it does not require conservation approaches.

Scientific appraisal of rock art in Northumberland has highlighted that due to factors such as climate change and local environmental conditions rock art has deteriorated at a faster rate in the last 50 years than in any of the preceding 6000. Further research will be undertaken through this project in order to add to this scientific understanding.

It is vital that a joint approach between heritage and science be undertaken in order to ensure rock art is not lost. CARE aims to co-produce a user-friendly tool kit for the use of specialists and non specialists alike to gather information essential for the long term preservation of open air rock art. This will be achieved through disseminating the results through publications and as well as creating a “how to guide” for individuals who have panel care responsibilities. This work will be a co-production with these stakeholders through utilising focus groups and pilot studies.

This project is collaboration between ICCHS and the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences from Newcastle University and the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University Belfast. The project will be managed by Myra Giesen, with Peter Lewis joining her as a Research Assistant. Peter graduated from ICCHS in 2009 with an MA in Heritage Management and has since worked as a Project Manager on a variety of community based projects.

ICCHS to showcase research at MoMA New York

Andrew Newman and Anna Goulding are heading to the Museum of Modern Art  in New York this month (April) to showcase their research on how older people’s lives can be improved through engagement with contemporary visual art.  They have produced a short film demonstrating a new way of working in art galleries that focuses on creativity. “This is not about reminiscence, it’s about using the imagination to create something new,” said Anna Goulding.  “Art can take us out of our normal lives and enable us to change our thinking, which can have a profound influence on how we relate to the world around us.”

Video link: http://Art Gallery Interventions for People with Dementia from Hugh Sherlock on Vimeo.

The New Dynamics of Ageing programme funded the research project and a follow-on project involved developing informed arts policy and intervention guidance that could have significant implications for museums and galleries.