Some of the greatest art in the world is public art, including Michelangelo’s David, the fountains of Bernini and Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. Those are lofty masterpieces. A few notches down in sublimity but beloved of locals and tourists alike are such icons as Eros at Piccadilly Circus, or the mermaid in Copenhagen harbour, or the Statue of Liberty.
It is important to remember such triumphs as the debate over public art in Britain deepens. A few years ago, expensive public commissions seemed almost beyond criticism. Today they seem a sitting target for denunciation. It surely reflects a depressed economy: a depressed nation? Yet with the typical messy and inaccurate nature of artistic debate in Britain, where people sometimes seem to look with their mouths rather than their eyes, the sculpture that is taking the flak for years of excess in British public art is actually a fine example of the genre. Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s Orbit is a daring, imaginative and exhilarating work of art. It does not deserve to be pilloried – on the contrary, if all British public art were like this, it would be an age of glory.