The Sculpture ‘Marmite’ Question:

What do you love?

Kevin Atherton, Platforms Piece, Brixton
Kevin Atherton, Platforms Piece , (one of three sculptures) 1986, Brixton Railway Station, Atlantic Road, London, SW9, Listed Grade II (photo: (c) Historic England).

What do you hate?

Rudy Weller The Four Horses of Helios
Rudy Weller, The Four Horses of Helios, 1992, Haymarket and Piccadilly Circus, London, SW1 (photo: 3rd Dimension).

Ben Street replies:

Bad public sculpture fails to take into account a sculpture’s public life, which is why I can’t stand those horses, whose bulging, veiny scrotums have provided a backdrop to any number of visiting families’ innocent holiday photos. Everything is wrong: their pedantic realism, their histrionic tone, their total disregard for where they are. In that way, they’re a sort of object lesson in how not to do it.

Which is why I love Kevin Atherton’s eternally waiting figures at Brixton Station. Here’s a counter-example: these are quiet, intermittently invisible sculptures that seem to understand the nature of how art is looked at in the public sphere – which is to say, it mostly isn’t. These are three bronze humans, cast from local residents in the mid-eighties, spaced along different platforms, that, in rush hour, get swallowed up by the crowd, and disappear. They’re made for a space where looking (even looking up) mostly doesn’t happen. They’re waiting to be seen, which they seem to understand they might not be. They don’t mind being missed. But on a quiet day, or in the snow, you see them and you suddenly stop. Public sculpture doesn’t often make you do that.