Is This Humongous Raindrop the UK’s Worst New Piece of Public Art?

'Origin' has been honored, just not in the way its creators might have hoped for.

Solas Creative, Origin. Courtesy of Belfast City Council.

It’s like the Razzies, but for public art: subscribers to London’s conservative weekly, the Spectator, have voted, and Origin by Solas Creative, a team of artists, won the “What’s That Thing?” award for the worst public artwork installed in the UK during 2016.

The 36-foot-tall statue is perched upon a hill overlooking Belfast, where it lies in wait for hikers, and can be seen from various points in the city, both during the day and the night, when it is illuminated.

“Haven’t the people of Northern Ireland suffered enough?” the Spectator’s Igor Toronyi-Lalic fulminated, decrying piece as “[c]lumsy, aggressive, [and] cheap-looking” and slamming “the arrogance of the bureaucrats who commissioned it.”

The statue cost €100,000 ($108,000), and was funded by the national lottery. It is one of seven large-scale projects from Creative Belfast, a partnership between Belfast City Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland that is “all about investing in big, bold and ambitious cultural projects which would give everyone in Belfast the opportunity to take part in high-quality culture, inspired by our rich heritage,” according to a statement from Mary Ellen Campbell, the deputy lord mayor of Belfast.

Solas Creative, <em>Origin</em>. Courtesy of Belfast City Council.

Solas Creative, Origin. Courtesy of Belfast City Council.

Origin is intended to represent a droplet of water from Belfast’s Farset river. It is made from three tons of of polished stainless steel arcs, two tons of granite, and 550 pounds of glass, some of the colored Narima variety.

The Solas Creative artist team is made up of Patricia Crossey, Tracey McVerry, Gerard Loughran, and Niall Loughran. For his part, McVerry has described the glass portion of the sculpture rather grandly, as “giving an ethereal quality and animating the external structure with elements of spectral color, movement, texture, reflection, and refraction which continuously shifts with the changing light and creates an arc of energy reflected back to the viewer.”

Solas Creative, <em>Origin</em>. Courtesy of Belfast City Council.

Solas Creative, Origin. Courtesy of Belfast City Council.

The Spectator isn’t the first to slam the sculpture, which has been likened to a corporate logo masquerading as fine art. At the time of the work’s September installation, the Belfast Telegraph spoke with locals who compared Origin to “a giant tulip stuck in the middle of nowhere,” and criticized it as “fairly dull and unimaginative.”

For its part, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is taking an “all publicity is good publicity” approach, with a spokesperson telling BelfastLive, “Not everyone will react in the same way to this piece of art, but the fact that it is attracting interest and discussion is positive.”

It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that the Spectator is clear that it is not just against bad public art, but public art in general. “Has public art ever achieved any level of popular approval or intellectual respect?,” Stephen Bailey wrote when the paper announced the “What’s That Thing?” contest a few years ago.

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