Branding yourself - when artwork can go wrong.

Sheffielder’s are proud of their city. It’s industrial past put it on the world map. Although the greenest city in England, it’s not known for it’s architecture,. Buildings have never had that ‘wow’ factor, partly due to their temporary nature. The architecture was led by industrial need. So it seemed fitting that when travelling south on the M1 the iconic landmark to indicate you were  home was a pair of cooling towers, the power station however long gone. As iconic as Anthony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ in Gateshead. However the towers were in a bad state of repair and needed removing. No more landmark.

To put Sheffield on the map once more a proper sculpture has been commissioned., ’The Man of Steel’. It’s not bad, but obvious, in a way that will make it acceptable in the short term but not loveable  in the long, and I’m dubious if it’ll ever be made. I’d argue that if you’re a council looking for a major piece of public art, just put your hand in your pocket and hire Gormley or Kapoor (I love the Cloud Gate in Chicago, but am a bit iffy about the Orbit in the Olympic Park) or if you are really feeling brave, Koons. It’s money worth spent.

Sheffield is bereft of any iconic art at present. Well, that is what I thought until a friend pointed out an interesting piece visible from the Parkway as you enter Sheffield. Admittedly when she was describing it she wasn’t sure if it really existed, was it a dream, or a nightmare? Glimpsed one snowy, winter’s night. Was that real or did I imagine it? Should I call the police? Did that man have an axe?

The piece in question looms out of the trees and undergrowth on the verge by the road. A three metre tall, cast iron, bare chested man, brandishing a sledgehammer. I think it is meant to represent the workers who toiled in the steel industry to make Sheffield great, however in the shadows of a late evening it emerges from the bushes like a serial killer who has just bludgeoned their last victim to death. Waiting for the next car to break down, so they can offer help, before dragging their latest victim kicking and screaming in to the bushes.

Public art should inspire and make people proud of their city, however I’m not sure what this piece says. Anyway, welcome to Sheffield, like Royston Vasey, You’ll never leave.

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