Leaving the docks and heading towards Park Street we come across Queen Victoria by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, sculptor to the aristocracy, whose work included the ‘Jubilee head’ of Queen Victoria on coins. Not far away is the first Banksy.
Phoenix (Jayde Perkin, 2023): Bristol has charity temporary art installations in the summer just like Birmingham. In 2023 Unicorns were all over the place.
University of Public Art
In Birmingham’s Public Art a whole chapter looked at the public art on University campuses. While the historical public art was impressive we were not overwhelmed with Birmingham’s recent efforts. For example, the University of Birmingham, has spent perhaps £1.5 billion on redeveloping it’s campus in the last twenty years but there has been little in the way of major public art initiatives. Indeed they have even managed to lose the place-making Barbara Hepworth bronze along the way. The new library has no new public art outside to welcome you to this central statement of education on campus.So, it was good to find out more about the approach to public art at the University of Bristol. Unlike Birmingham, a simple search on the internet immediately comes up with a clear and impressive strategy for University of Bristol public art - see here….It has been produced with the Contemporary Art Society as advisor’s and has the key elements one would expect. It clearly explains the benefits of public art initiatives, setting what could be done at a local level and emphasising public engagement as part of the process.We headed to the main city centre campus, behind the Wills building to experience things for ourselves.
Palm Temple, (Luke Jerram, 2020)
Donated by the artist and originally produced for a Sky arts programme in Italy. It is located in a sunken square outside the Chemistry Department and the public are encouraged to come and experience it.
Royal Fort Gardens
Henrietta Lacks (Helen
Wilson-Roe, 2021) sees a
formal bronze statue in a
garden and with a detailed
explaining her role as the
person whose cell line was
the first to be grown outside the body.
There are several more fairly new installations in the Gardens.
Follow Me (Jeppe Hein, 2009)
A mirror maze and here is seen reflecting the group sitting close by on the grass.
Hollow (Katie Paterson, 2016)
Bristol is an amazing city with a 1,000 year history. I lived here from 1973 until 1975 and came back during my University vacations and visited relatives until recently. It certainly has a mix of public art that is worthy of study. With everything from medieval walls in the city centre to the work of Banksy and many other talented street artists, it is certainly a competitor to Birmingham as a centre for public art.So, with my book Birmingham’s Public Art almost finished, it was fun to spend a few days in Bristol exploring….and morning jogs and a walking tour were great ways of seeing more.
Spike Island public art
Bristol’s floating harbour is such a fun place to run around in the morning. You get such a feel for a city when it wakes up and starts to fill with people. From a hotel in Clifton it takes just a few minutes to head down to Hotwells and the crossing of the large lock for the harbour. Once you are on Spike Island, the strip of land where the SS Great Britain resides, there are some interesting pieces of public art from the 1980s along the pathway.
Hollow is a photographers delight from the inside. It is composed of over 10,000 pieces of wood from trees all over the world. It was installed as part of the £56 million development of the life sciences building. It certainly shows the commitment of the University in adding public art to new developments. The artist spent 3 years collecting the wood fragments. You enter the inner space through a narrow entrance to find a ‘meditative space’ with light coming down as if through openings in a forest’s canopy. You are surrounded by samples from the oldest tree in the world to nearly extinct trees.
Code Connection (Simon Thomas, 2002)
This piece was one that Simon undertook as artist in residence at the School of Mathematics. We just came across it as we were searching for other pieces on the University’s public art map.
Voronoi Screen (Wilkinson Eyre and
Peter Green, 2017)
With limited time we did not find all the newer public art on campus we were interested to see. However, we saw enough to appreciate just what a difference having a relevant public art strategy was for this University, and this certainly contrasted with our findings in Birmingham.
Public art of Birmingham and Bristol
In part we had come to Bristol to see how this city of both history and modernity in public art compared to Birmingham. We went on to Bedminster and Stokes croft to see more street art, and certainly is amazing, but in a different way to the pieces we show people round on tour in Birmingham on our Saturday morning walking tours.Perhaps a key thing to say is that the public art offerings of Bristol and Birmingham simply are not directly comparable. Bristol, despite the damage of the Second World War and central core redevelopment, has public art gonig back over a 1,000 years to see. The scale of Georgian and Victorian public art also reminds us of the huge money coming into the city from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Of particular note is that in that 1960s-80s period when Birmingham was being turned over by ruthless planners, Bristol had a very strong architectural heritage part of the Bristol City Council planning department.In a strange way the continual redevelopment of Birmingham’s central core has meant that there is perhaps more to represent the period since the late Victorian era and in particular with the different styles and fashions. For while buildings don’t last long in this city of continual redevelopment sometimes the public art stays longer. Of particular note for our visit to Bristol is the impressive and very readable public art strategy of the University of Bristol. (See here….)The way the University encourages the general public onto campus areas to enjoy and experience the new installations is so positive and includes excellent internet maps and interpretation boards by the newer works of public art.
At the top of Park Street and past the ‘Triangle’, the Victoria Rooms has art from several periods. In the apex sees Minerva, Godess of Wisdom (Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson, 1839). In the foreground is Edward the VII with elaborate fountains and lions (Edwin Alfred Rickards & Henry Poole, 1912).