Liverpool is blessed (and cursed) with more statuary than any city outside London. There’s barely a square foot of public space that isn’t crowded with cast bronze, day-glo resin or 80′s plastic, masquerading as some ‘meaningful’ metaphor to music, commerce or, erm, Spanish dance. No, we’ve no idea either.
The maxim is simple: there is no such thing as too many wonky Lennon busts or too many sycophantic renditions of fusty (always male) city elders. And give us a half beast, half banana, and we’ll take it to our hearts and refuse to part with it.
Here’s our survey of the city’s good, bad and downright bonkers public art…
Eleanor Rigby, Stanley Street
Eternally youthful cheeky Cockney, Tommy Steele is also a respected sculptor. His Eleanor Rigby (main pic) is a suitably wistful and slight piece, bequeathed by Steele to the city to thank us for the music. Rigby, gaze turned downwards, is momentarily distracted by a sparrow. It’s an affecting little tableau, dedicated to ‘all the lonely people’ – and, as part of the sculpture is a bench, you sit with her for a while. It’s close to Mathew Street and should definitely be included on any Beatles tour.
One of Elisabeth Frink’s last pieces, The Welcoming Christ doesn’t, at first, look especially welcoming. He looks a bit like he’s not accepting visitors, and was a controversial choice when he was revealed – but the more you gaze upwards, the more this earthy, typically Frink piece works his magic. Solemn, yes, but spiritual, most definitely. Sensual even. There’s a maquette of the work also on show at the East end of the Cathedral, should you want a closer look without abseiling (although that, too, is sometimes an option).
Victoria Monument, Derby Square
Built on top of the original site of Liverpool Castle, the Queen Victoria statue and cupola on Derby Square is no run of the mill municipal monument. During the ‘blitz’ of WW2, the area suffered terrible damage but, miraculously, this strident Victoria survived, unscathed, to stare down at the devastation surrounding her. The statue is the work of C. J. Allen, an important turn of the century artist. Just look at the detail on her dress, her hanging sleeves and her cloak. Walk up James Street, keep the statue on your right, and it looks a bit rude, too. That’ll be her sceptre. The pedestal groups at her feet comprise Agriculture, Commerce, Industry and Education, while Victory flies above the dome.
Billy Fury, Albert Dock
Liverpool born artist Tom Murphy has a clutch of frozen assets around the city (see below) but his best is this animated Billy Fury, pointing menacingly to the departing Isle of Man ferry. The bronze statue was funded by the Sound Of Fury fan club, and unveiled in 2003. Fury was a Liverpool rock’n’roll legend, still much loved in the city. And, if we’re honest, we’ve included this because he was much cooler than those other four. Still is.
Peace and Harmony, Echo Arena
What happens when a US school girl gets giddy with a QVC crafting kit and an open competition? This monumentally crass and literal representation (top right), in what looks like extruded plastic, of Lennon’s world view. Yeah, they are doves of peace flying above the treble clef and Lisa Simpson sax. And, no, Lennon couldn’t read music. The work was unveiled in the heart of Liverpool ONE but it’s been, perhaps unceremoniously, shuffled back to the windy expanse of paving outside the Arena since. The eighteen-foot sculpture was commissioned by the Global Peace Initiative as a part of their plan to infect every continent on earth with similarly tasteless Walmart art. Sorry, we can’t give Peace a chance.
‘Oh drat, I’ve got a bit of grit in my eye.’
‘Here, let me see if I can remove it with my feather duster.’
Yes, if Noel Coward’s ‘Brief Encounter’ was re-enacted by Ken Dodd and fiery Labour MP Bessie Braddock on the Number 7 platform at Lime Street we’re sure that’s how it would play out. And it’s the only way to make sense of this bonkers duet, awaiting travellers alighting at Liverpool’s inter-city terminus after an overcrowded train journey from London. God, haven’t they suffered enough? The statue was commissioned by Merseytravel. And, as an art work commissioned by an urban heavy rail commuter line, it fits the brief perfectly. Still, at least it was unveiled on time.
Said to symbolise man’s struggle to be freed from slavery, this four tonne anatomically accurate beast and life-size man depicts the horse’s will to unravel itself in a bid for freedom, and is by world class sculptor Edward Cronshaw. The sculpture’s original home, atop Church Street, lead many to believe it symbolised the industrial heritage of the Ropewalks. It didn’t.
The Beatles, Cavern Walks
Precious few statues of The Beatles include the group’s instruments too. But, in the case of the Cavern Walks ensemble we’re kind of glad they did. It’s really the only way to be sure who that bloke is sitting at the drum kit or, for that matter, the other three. The statue, by John Doubleday, makes you wish they’d hired that blind girl from the Hello video to have go. It, really, couldn’t be any worse. Come to think of it, isn’t that Lionel Richie playing the Hofner bass?
Less organic than much of Barbara Hepworth’s seminal 60s pieces, this work sits on a Hepworth-designed plinth and is said to represent a Neolithic standing stone. It’s a weighty and impressive presence in this handsome University quadrangle, and one of only a precious few noteworthy abstract sculptures in a city obsessed with figurative dross.
Roman Standard, Liverpool Cathedral
We could sit and argue about Tracey Emin all night. But let’s not. Instead, cast your eyes on her flightless, and rather lumpen little bird, atop a pole at the entrance to the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. YBA made OMG. What’s that you’re saying, little birdy? You wish you could fly? But you can’t? Well, actually, you can, can’t you? Yes, Emin’s bird took flight one night, when it was stolen by, we’re guessing, the sculpture liberation army. Sadly, they returned it a few nights afterwards, after a threatening call from Emin. Well, wouldn’t you?
Walker was a Royal Navy officer in WW11, the most successful anti-submarine warfare commander during the Battle of the Atlantic. His innovative methods sunk more U-boats during the battle than any other British or Allied commander and was instrumental in the victory, one of the most important campaigns of the war. It’s a smashing piece of work by Liverpool’s Tom Murphy, and a place of pilgrimage for those who lost loved ones in the battle.