The Sculpture ‘Marmite’ Question:

What do you love?

John Buckley, The Headington Shark
John Buckley, Untitled 1986 ('The Headington Shark'), fibreglass h. 760cm., 2 New High Street, Headington, Oxford (photo: Leonie Summers)

What do you hate?

Two Buddy Bears
Klaus and Eva Herlitz in cooperation with sculptor Roman Strobl, Two Buddy Bears, 2011, fibreglass, Kurfürstendamm, Germany, a temporary public sculpture (photo: Creative Commons)

S. Mark Gubb replies:

A work I’ve loved for years is Untitled 1986, otherwise known as ‘The Headington Shark’ by John Buckley. This is a fibreglass shark sticking out the roof of a terraced house in Oxford, commissioned by Bill Heine for his own home. I clearly remember this making national news when it first inexplicably appeared. I’d have been about 12 at the time and, whilst I’m not about to say that it influenced me to become an artist, its presence and spectacle is something I have always loved and increasingly seem to strive for in my own work. It was years later that I looked in to its history and discovered that it appeared on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and was a very particular statement about the impotence and insecurity of living in a nuclear age. The joyful spectacle of it, coupled with serious political undertones, is something I strongly connect with and make it almost a perfect work in my view.

I dislike any and all of those public projects where a series of identical fibreglass animals are decorated by different artists and community groups for display around a city. I can’t single out any one, as they’re all as awful as each other – bears in Berlin, Superlambananas in Liverpool, cows in Milton Keynes. Of course, some of these projects raise money for good causes and who am I to criticise that? It’s not necessarily the objects themselves that I dislike, but the fact that for so many councils this has become an off-the-peg solution that lacks vision, when they could be commissioning genuinely interesting works for their city. It’s the mirror opposite of Skulptur Projekte Münster or APRB in Bristol, providing a quick hit of the appearance of art around a city, but with absolutely no useful or credible artistic legacy.