We can all think of lofty sculptures that have been used to decorate public spaces. But the best examples go beyond aesthetics to create a true sense of place, like Wall Street’s Charging Bull, a symbol of financial markets, which has even invited philosophical challenge in statue form, known as Fearless Girl.
Our list showcases the different ways that sculptural art can be genuinely localised yet internationally iconic.
Louise Bourgeois’ giant spiders
One of the most recognisable sculptures on the planet, the French artist’s towering yet delicate bronze spiders can be found all around the world, from Korea to Canada. Various versions are also consistently among the most expensive sculptures sold.
The largest of these behemoths in the Maman (“Mother”) series - over 30 feet tall and over 33 feet wide - was made for the opening of London’s Tate Modern. The body, with a metal-mesh sac filled with white marble “eggs” that dangles over visitors’ heads, is supported by spindly legs tapering down to the merest of pinpoints. These egg-carrying arachnids are a nurturing and protective symbol of motherhood, fertility, shelter and home.
In every city where the mother spider has landed, they have become iconic features of the public space, endlessly photographed by visitors and locals alike. Examples include outside the National Gallery of Canada and in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills, a mixed development littered with other impressive sculptures, such as Murakami Takeshi’s golden Parent and Child of Flowers and South Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa’s 12-metre tower of 44 colourful plastic robots.
Nelson Mandela Memorial, South Africa
South Africa has produced many interesting works of art that reflect its rich yet troubled history. Amidst the countless artworks inspired by freedom fighter and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Nelson Mandela, stands a particularly impressive statue in Howick, 90 kilometres from Durban.
The historic monument commemorates the 50th year anniversary of Mandela’s arrest, and is situated at the site where he was first taken into custody, before spending 27 years in prison at Robben Island. The towering tribute, by local artist Marco Cianfanelli, presents Mandela in profile using 50 steel columns reminiscent of prison bars. The monument, spanning 6.5 metres across and 9 metres high, stands against a stark landscape and changes with the light, inviting solemn meditation on the price of freedom.
However, the work is meant to be interacted with, not merely viewed: "When you walk through the structure, it radiates like a burst of light, which symbolises the political uprising of many people and solidarity," Cianfanelli explained.
White Tube, Copenhagen
A beloved spot for children and young-at-heart adults, the White Tube offers a playful respite from Copenhagen’s hustle and bustle, and is described by its creator, Hans Henrik Ohlers, as an imaginary “energy portal connecting you with other worlds”.
The intertwined white tubes made of reinforced concrete and polyurethane have a marine quality, looking almost like tentacles. The whole structure is perforated with large holes throughout, so it can be climbed over, under and inside, offering adventure and physical challenge.
A magical transformation occurs when night falls, as the creature comes alive, courtesy of hundreds of built-in fibre optic lights sprinkled all over the sculpture. The effect is not only a twinkling, otherworldly beauty, but also allows play to continue 24-7, unlike most playgrounds which are only accessible during the day.
The White Tube is the star attraction of Guldberg Town Square, which combines public square with playground, and is also a working school yard. The whole space is littered with other playable structures and street furniture. Even the narrow curb has been topped with irregular-sized boulders, perfect for little feet to clamber over.
The Bean, Chicago
Although its official name is Cloud Gate, Chicago denizens have long nicknamed this shining, mirrored sculpture, “the bean” for its distinctive shape. Located in Millennium Park, this huge twisted abstract block was created by famous artist, Anish Kapoor, using computer technology to cut and shape 168 massive stainless-steel plates, that are then assembled together like a jigsaw puzzle and welded shut so meticulously you can barely see any joints. It stands 10 metres tall, with a base is around 20 by 13 meters, and is balanced on only two relatively small points.
Owing to its immense size, unique shape and pristine surface, Cloud Gate reflects and distorts the city of Chicago on a grand scale, from the flat midwestern landscape to the vast expanse of Lake Michigan to the now curving jungle of skyscrapers. The play of light and landscape changes throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky and is eventually replaced by the city lights.
The sculpture has become synonymous with the Chicago experience and welcomes thousands of visitors a day, who are even able to walk under the structure through the 12-foot-high central arch, which was the inspiration for its formal name.
There are few sculptures that are more recognisably associated with its city as The Merlion that spouts water into Marina Bay, overlooking the sea. Standing at 8.6 metres high and weighing 70 tonnes, the pure-white part-lion, part-fish statue is constructed from cement and porcelain, with eyes made from small red teacups.
The merlion is a portmanteau bringing together Singapore’s past and present. Its fishing village history is represented by the lower body while the lion head is a direct reference to the name Singapore, which means “lion city”.
Designed by Alec Fraser-Brunner and built by Lim Nang Seng, the merlion was unveiled by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1972 and has since become the undisputed symbol of the city state. It has been used endlessly in branding and advertising, and made appearances in major film and TV productions from around the world.
Slider 5: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlion