LONDON — For the fifth edition of the Sculpture in the City public art exhibition, towering names in contemporary art like Ai Weiwei, Damien Hirst, and Kris Martin have installed sculptures alongside the financial district’s skyscrapers. The annual outdoor event in the area known as the Square Mile opened in July, but only this month did Ai Weiwei’s 1,254-bicycle monument “Forever” join the exhibition as a dizzying piece outside the Gherkin (officially 30 St. Mary Axe). The addition coincides with the opening of the artist’s big solo show at the Royal Academy of Arts.
Sculpture in the City is organized by the City of London Corporation with local businesses and art organizations. The international group of invited artists have work that both contrasts and fades into the setting out on the streets. The exhibition is predominantly staged against the backdrop of the newer architecture, but some works connect with older structures, like Kris Martin’s silhouetted “Altar” outside the 18th-century St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate church and Adam Chodzko’s soaring wooden “Ghost” in the ornate 19th-century arcade of Leadenhall Market. Chodzko’s wooden kayak is easy to miss if you don’t look up, although it was designed more as a participatory piece where a rider reclines in the boat “like a body in a coffin.” Its journeys include one on the Thames this year from Bankside to Deadman’s Hole, so named because it was believed to have once been a point of retrieval for corpses in the river.
Others are placed right alongside the glassy towers, such as Damien Hirst’s grim 22-foot “Charity (2002–2003)” with a girl in a leg brace, which is based on a 1960s donation box, and is typically subverted with the back pried open and the coins tumbled at her feet. Nearby, “Organisms of Control #8” by Keita Miyazaki plays chiming sounds collected from both Tokyo and London out of a contraption built from car engines. And being that it’s a busy financial area, there are a lot of men in suits constantly strolling by Folkert de Jong’s patinated bronze “OId DNA,” a comment on power’s deterioration based on a distorted 3D scan of the armor from Henry VIII’s hefty later years.
All of the artworks are up through next May, and although there isn’t much that’s confrontational (despite some confusion about the figures in Laura Ford’s “Days of Judgement – Cats 1&2” being rat bankers), and some of the pieces are almost asking to be ignored, it does encourage moments of pause in the narrow streets and busy traffic of the financial district.
Sculpture in the City continues in the City of London through May 2016.