The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Keep public sculpture public! Proposed removal of Elisabeth Frink’s ‘irreplaceable’ Desert Quartet

The Twentieth Century Society and the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association today pledged their support for the local residents’ campaign,
led by the Worthing Society to stop the proposed removal and sale of Dame Elisabeth Frink’s ‘Desert Quartet’.  These four bronze heads form an internationally important group of public sculptures and a familiar local landmark outside the Montague shopping centre in Worthing.

‘Desert Quartet’ was specially commissioned from the internationally acclaimed sculptor Dame Elisabeth Frink in 1985.  Its installation was required by the local council as a condition for granting planning consent for the build-ing of the Montague Shopping Centre and the planning permission provided that it be ‘permanently placed’ at the site.

The Avon Group, owners of the Montague Centre, have now announced their wish to remove the heads.  If sold on the international art market it is anticipated they would fetch a multi-million pound sum. Sir Humphrey Avon, on behalf of the owners of the centre, has promoted a competition for a new sculpture as a replacement.

Catherine Croft (Director, 20th Century Society) said:

‘We are campaigning against the removal of the “Desert Quartet”, not just because it is a unique and powerful work that looks great in its current setting.  There is also a broader principle at stake here.  Where a fine sculpture is installed as a condition of a planning consent we want to make sure that it stays in place.  The intention was that the Frink heads should bring pleasure to the public permanently.   Public sculptures should stay where they belong – in full view of the public’

The Chair of the PMSA’s Save our Sculpture campaign, Ian Leith, comments,

‘I suspect that no series of such valuable heads are on display anywhere – a few other individual heads may well be on display, but “Desert Quartet I, II, III & IV” are unique – possibly in the world.  Any town or any country should be very proud to have ownership of this series.  It is irreplaceable and should be celebrated, not dismantled’.

Jo Darke (Director, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association) said:

‘This series of four bronze heads cannot be replaced by new sculpture “of the same quality” for a single reason – it is unique and endows Worthing with a work of art of a quality and value few other townscapes can claim.  The PMSA vigorously supports new public sculpture of good quality, but never at the expense of a unique example such as ‘Desert Quartet”