The Department of Culture Media and Sport, (DCMS) has today taken the historic step of listing a public sculpture less than thirty years old. The precedent, set by the listing of Elisabeth Frinks masterly ‘Desert Quartet’ (which sits on a post modern Worthing shopping centre) at Grade II*, will protect one of England’s finest public sculptures
The campaign was backed by leading figures from the art world including Nicholas Serota, Sir Christopher Frayling, Lord Palumbo and Loyd Grossman. (See quotes below)
‘Desert Quartet’ was specially commissioned from the internationally acclaimed sculptor Dame Elisabeth Frink in 1985 and was installed in 1989. The work consists of four giant heads which overlook Liverpool Gardens, not far from the seafront in Worthing. Initially derided locally, and known as “the goggle heads”—the Worthing Society campaigned for their retention with the national organisations and the public enthusiastically backed the campaign.
A petition launched last weekend attracted 400 local signatures including the Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth model, Alison Lapper (herself a sculptor), and members of Worthing Borough Council. The developer of the shopping centre wished to remove the sculptures, only 18 years after providing them as a condition of getting planning permission for the building. They have an estimated current value of approx £2 million.
The listing decision was made on the advice of English Heritage. It sets a vital benchmark for the future and sends a clear message to developers and planning departments about the importance of public art.
C20 Director, Catherine Croft says:
“It is great that this important sculpture is now protected and the heads will continue to gaze out over Worthing. The original intention was that they should be a permanent fixture for the benefit of the public, and listing should ensure that the local public and visitors can continue to be able to enjoy them”
Jo Darke (Director, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association) says:
‘This approval is of crucial importance to public sculpture, firstly in acknowledging that rare and deserving cases like this can circumvent the 30-Year Rule, and also in the unprecedented decision to List an unremarkable building for the sake of its remarkable sculptures’.
The C20 Society and the PMSA hope that this decision will be the start of a survey of the UK’s public art, murals and sculpture. Many excellent pieces are already under threat, from Dorothy Annan’s purpose made murals for BT in the City of London (1960), to the abstract tiling on the exterior of Sunderland’s threatened Wearmouth Hall (1963). This decision is a major start in the battle to have these and others like them saved.
Previous quotes regarding the Desert Quartet.
“I hope very much that he (Mr Humphrey Avon), can be persuaded to withdraw from his present position and make it abundantly clear that the gift _as I understand it to be – will remain in perpetuity for the benefit of Worthing town and its population”.
Lord Palumbo, past chair Arts Council
“The four giant bronze heads by Elisabeth Frink was an imaginative move which has stood the test of time. There can be no aesthetic grounds for the removal of the Desert Quartet”
Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate
“The four giant bronze heads by Elisabeth Frink were a remarkable achievement for Worthing”
Sir Christopher Frayling, Chair, Arts Council
“These powerful portraits represent the best sculpture put up for public view – art beyond the gallery is for everyone. We need to reaffirm the public responsibility of the original donor to maintain the presence of these powerful visages”.
Loyd Grossman, Chairman, Public Monuments and Sculpture Association
Jo Darke – PMSA – 0207 485 0566 / 07968 256 120
Catherine Croft – C20 Society – 0207 250 3857 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jon Wright – C20 Society – 0207 250 3857 – jon.wright(at)c20society.org.uk
Natalie Cropper – Secretary, The Worthing Society – 01903 241 949
Ted Kennard – The Worthing Society – Broadwater30(at)yahoo.co.uk
For further images please contact jon.wright(at)c20society.org.uk
Notes to Editors –
1. Biographical notes on Dame Elisabeth Frink
Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930 – 1993), is rated one of England’s finest sculptors of the period. Often linked to the Post-war school of British sculpture, which included Reg Butler and Eduardo Paolozzi, her work is distinguished by a commitment to natural forms and themes. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1982.
2. Notes on C20
The Twentieth Century Society, founded in 1979 as the Thirties Society, is the national amenity body that fights to safeguard the best of architecture and design in Britain from 1914 onwards.
3. Notes on the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA)
The PMSA was established in 1991 (founding patron, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi) for the protection and promotion of public sculpture. Its main campaigns are the National Recording Project, a survey of public sculpture in Britain (65% completed), and the Save our Sculpture project which actively supports protection of neighbourhood sculpture by local residents.