Coventry, UK’s million pound art bonanza (2000)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 1 June 2010
This announcement first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 19(4), page 7 in 2000.

As part of its £20 million downtown regeneration scheme, the City of Coventry has commissioned a variety of public, site-specific artworks by Chris Browne, Susanna Heron, David Ward, Françoise Schein, Jochen Gerz, Kate Whitford, and Alexander Beleschenko. The city’s art budget is over one million pounds.

The renewal area includes the excavated site of Coventry’s original medieval cathedral, a medieval stone gateway into the city, a restored 1930s garden, and several restored historic buildings. Two new plazas are being constructed, Priory Place and Millennium Place, as well as three new gardens. The overall scheme, designed by master architects MacCormack, Jameson, and Pritchard, will also feature a pedestrian bridge made almost entirely of glass, even the flooring, which will connect Millennium Place to the Priory Cloister Gardens.

Artworks will include a Modernist-influenced, sculptural-architectural fountain by Susanna Heron. Uniquely, water will fall into a pool, seemingly without splashing— the illusion created by a sheet of copper. David Ward has been commissioned to create a son et lumière piece in the Priory Cloister Gardens, which will subtly combine light-washed walls and human voices, broadcast from pleached lime trees. The soundtrack will play Benedictine chants, perhaps, or local residents’ stories of the World War II Blitz, which destroyed the city center. Kate Whitford’s planted circular maze will refer to the elaborate floor designs found in medieval cathedrals. Meanwhile, Françoise Schein, trained in town planning, has designed a monumental clock set into the paving of the Millennium Place plaza. The design refers to the city’s history as a clock- and watch-making center, and it is based on the 24-hour time zone design seen on short wave radios.

Jochen Gerz will create a glass obelisk, called The Future Monument and The People’s Bench, which will flank Françoise Schein’s clock and run along the curved length of Millennium Place. Gerz’s plan for the bench requires that the people of Coventry complete it by having their names engraved onto small metal plates together with the name of another person of their choice— thereby affixing that relationship to the bench. Is the city concerned about possible controversy, given the uncensored nature of the artwork and Gerz’s previous controversial designs in Hamburg and Munich? According to press officer Moore Flannery, “Gerz’s work is widely thought to be extremely thought-provoking, and public art anyplace is never intended to be liked by everybody. It ought to be disliked by as many people who like it.” The scheme’s completion is slated for Autumn 2001.