The UK’s five worst public art projects

Tracey Emin Roman StandardThat is obviously a misleading headline. The two worst public art projects in recent memory are evidently the Diana Memorial Fountain, which wasn’t much of a fountain never mind a memorial, and B of the Bang, Thomas Heatherwick’s glorious but spike-shedding testament to the then eternally popping dreams of Manchester City fans from 2005. But we all know about them, their failures were primarily functional rather than aesthetic, both are now defunct and they’ve got more than enough stiff competition thanks to the enduring desire of companies and councils up and down the land to make a statement in our public places with little regard for aesthetics or practicality.

The Roman Standard Tracey Emin

Artist: Tracey Emin

Liverpool Cathedral

You tell me you’ve seen seven wonders, and your bird can sing… Self-styled cuckoo ‘Mad Tracey’ was handed 60 grand of licence-payers’ money by the BBC and spent it on a washing-pole with a copper sparrow perched on top. Her tribute to the Liver Birds, who Tracey believes are ‘fictional’ (and presumably called Beryl and Sandra) was soon stolen from its perch. It was later returned wrapped in a note containing an apology written in a childish hand saying: ‘Couldn’t get rid of it, not for no money’.


6497025-lgThe Angel of The North

Artist: Anthony Gormley


Much-loved iconic symbol of the North-East’s glorious industrial past, redolent of its people’s famous grit and determination, and also of their warmth, with its arms angled to give a sense of embrace. But on the other hand, it’s out of scale, speaks above all else of a monumental ego, and if it were situated in the Fatherland would remind Geordies and the rest of us of nothing so much as the monomaniacal ambitions of the Führer, and we’re not talking about Alan Shearer.



Artist: Richard Serra

Location: Liverpool Street Station

Five plates of core-ten steel which have intentionally rusted to add patina to the surfaces. The sculpture is a free-standing collection of off-cuts such as those found under the benches after 4B have finished their metal-work class. The plates are designed to lean against each other, rather like the drunks who use it as a pissoir at any time of the day or night adding their own particular patina to the surface before stumbling off for a pasty and to catch their trains home to Chelmsford.


539457519_8a6be7a475An Turas Ferry Shelter

Architects: Sutherland Hussey

Tiree, Scotland

A piece of architecture re-imagined as art by the critics. From a mile away, it looks like ‘a place of subtle insight, poetically conceived;’ close up it looks like a place best seen from a mile away. Neither a barn in the middle of a field, nor a nuclear bunker, this award-winning bus stop has all the shape, texture and variety of a box of porridge oats. But let’s look on the bright side: at least it’s not modelled on a clootie dumpling.


483125980_19530ccf3bTen Guardians

Artist: Howard Ben Tré

A perfect example of council precinct junk – and an expensive one at that. The Guardians supposedly symbolise the people who have protected or worked for Warrington. Instead the project appalled the plain speaking locals and not just because of the reputed £5 million price tag. Quickly renamed the ‘Skittles’, nobody could have predicted that their surfaces would soon be covered in graffiti. Nobody at the council that is. As councils up and down the country grapple with budget cuts and reduced services, the main role of the Ten Guardians is as the touchstone for people’s discontent.