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‘Art and Disruption’

The Inclusions and Exclusions of British Public Art: Creating Art for the Successful City, or for the Just City?

Les inclusions et exclusions de l’art public britannique : créer pour une ville performante, ou pour une ville juste ?
Charlotte Gould


La notion d’espace public a connu une transformation qui, à Londres en particulier, a radicalement reconfiguré les idées de public et de privé. Dans ce contexte, l’art public est progressivement devenu incapable de s’appuyer simplement sur sa présence en dehors de la galerie ou du musée pour remplir le rôle civique qu’il avait endossé depuis l’après-guerre. Cet article examine la façon dont les artistes se sont récemment confrontés à la dichotomie entre public et privé pour s’assurer que l’art public présenté dans les villes britanniques reste pertinent.

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1In this article, I would like to investigate the reasons why public art as a genre has been said to have been in the grips of a crisis. Public art has indeed been under attack for some years now for failing to fulfill the civic role it has been expected to assume since the middle of the 20th century, having become, in the words of Patricia Philips, a bureaucratised ‘machine’ (Phillips 1988) backed by percent for art policies, and an out of order machine at that. This mechanical condition stems from the labyrinthine network it is required to navigate in search of political approval and funding, with proposals made to appropriate agencies, budget estimates filed to local authorities and corporate sponsors, projects submitted to juries, and arbitrations by semi-independent non-governmental bodies—see in particular the 2020 issue of Public Art Dialogue entitled The Failures of Public Art (Cartiere and Wingate 2020). Public art has become a hybrid creature which has clutched at the branches of ephemerality to resist commodification, at site-specificity to hold on to relevance, as well as at discretion to work around issues of ‘publicness’ when that oh so crucial publicness can no longer be derived simply from its location on the street or on the square. And yet, even hidden, short-term art has had to deal with reproaches of political or corporate hijacking. It seems, nonetheless, that new crises might have recently liberated some experiments in public art from this quandary: be they the Covid pandemic, the BLM movement, or the ecological crisis.

The Rise of Pseudo-Public Space

2My approach of this global issue will focus specifically on British public art in the context of a recent shift in the governance of British public space. I therefore want to start by looking at a news report which recently caught the eye of a few observers of public art. It concerned Dave Crocker, a London artist who in 2019 launched a series called “the Soho Project” where he works outdoors to paint views of the Soho neighborhood. As a plein air artist of the 21st century, he often creates time lapse videos of him working in front of his subject, a local pub, a street, or the annual Soho waiters’ race, which he shares online. A series of articles came out in the British art press in July 2021 to report on a setback he had experienced earlier in the year and to lament what it says about the contemporary British city (Levy Gale 2021; Stratford 2021). Crocker’s long-established out of doors technique is one he had decided to apply to Carnaby street. On April 8, he found that the Covid crisis and its lockdown provided an opportunity to capture Carnaby Street without the crowds that usually make it one of Soho’s busiest streets. But after he had set up his easel, his activity was disrupted: a security guard in a hi-vis jacket came up to him and told him to pack up and leave. The guard’s explanation: the street was private, and Crocker wasn’t part of its ‘corporate image’ (‘Dave Crocker on Twitter’ n.d.). The irony of declaring the artist to be out of place in Soho is of course not lost on those who remember that the district built its brand on its cultural scene and was once home to the Colony Room, the watering hole of London’s art elite from the School of London to the YBAs.

  • 1 Shaftesbury’s annual report for 2021 offers the following description of their identity and purpose (...)

3Unbeknownst to the throngs of visitors who leisurely walk about it, much of Carnaby Street is actually the property of Shaftesbury PLC, a private investment trust which owns acres of real estate in the West End, and exclusively in the West End, including Chinatown, Soho and Covent Garden nearby.1 Crocker is just one of a number of people who have had a brush with either the police or security guards because of the unpublished regulations of areas in the UK which have come to be known as POPS: privately-owned public spaces. POPS—like many models for privatisation, an American import (Kayden 2000; Bortoli n.d.)—are accessible to the public and are barely distinguishable from parks and streets owned by local authorities, but they are maintained and regulated by private developers and landowners. They are therefore pseudo-public spaces, and lately their number has risen dramatically, bolstered by local councils eager to sell real estate to developers in order to pass on the cost of maintaining public space—still their exact number remains a mystery and such agreements are usually kept under wraps. More London, which is owned by St Martins Property Group, itself controlled by the Kuwaiti state, is just one example of such a developer currently managing the area around City Hall, which is hardly identifiable as private.

4POPS are now a feature of most major British cities, from Liverpool One—owned by the Grosvenor Group—to the new NOMA neighborhood in Manchester—whose 2016 responsibility update committed to ‘place-making through art’—, and with as much as 50 of them in London. In a way, they have come to compete with the Crown Estates, the collection of lands belonging to the Queen which are neither government property nor part of her private estate and which are administered by a semi-independent public body, but their infringement is mostly recent and on public space. What is more, the rules that govern them are rarely made available, which means that users like Crocker don’t know that they are doing anything wrong until they are firmly rebuked by a private security guard—one of the POPS’s main distinguishing features. Whilst these spaces look public, there are often constraints to their use. The opacity around POPS makes them controversial, but also possibly discriminatory spaces where exclusionary strategies can be used against the homeless, against demonstrators, . . . or against plein air artists.

  • 2 In 2008, the artist Nils Norman was invited by the Serpentine Gallery to explore the way the econom (...)
  • 3 A map charts the many pseudo-public spaces of London, revealing their size and the names of their o (...)

5In 2017, The Guardian, who run a special section called Guardian Cities, came up with the first map monitoring the POPS of the capital, by working in collaboration with Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC (GiGL), making a lot of the data concerning the very existence of these areas, and the identity of their owners public for the first time (as well as encouraging the public to continue to contribute to a dataset still in progress). The paper revealed the secret hold private investors have on the city and how this hold has insidiously kept growing. They also demonstrated how the developers of pseudo-public spaces and their financial backers are allowed to draw up their own rules for ‘acceptable behaviour’ on their land, and are under no obligation to make these rules public. These strategies can include the deterrent of surveillance, but also the inclusion of obstacles designed to avoid loitering, like defensive urban furniture.2 In any case, their employees have no special powers to police anyone, let alone artists, but the special rules are hazy enough for them to take the initiative to do so.3

6According to their website, Shaftesbury PLC’s business model and strategy apparently involve ‘curating vibrant and thriving villages in the heart of London’s West End’ with ‘new concepts’ and ‘innovative formats’, using ‘targeted, multi-channel marketing’ to ‘promote villages to a wide audience’ (Shaftesbury PLC). The verb ‘curating’ has of course become omnipresent, but it is interesting here in terms of the POPS’ relationship to art (the verb is used by most of the other groups to indicate the curating of space, streets, and even experiences. Shaftesbury PLC also presents its ‘villages’—Soho, Fitzrovia, Carnaby, Chinatown and Covent Garden, as its ‘portfolio’. The corporate privatisation of British streets is a huge issue—thoroughly explored by Anna Minton in Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City (Minton 2012)—but POPS is far more insidious with its normalising of the ‘corporate image’ as king. The very opposite, the potential of common land—over which non-landowners have traditional rights—has been a theme explored many artists and architects recently. Sady Levy Gale (Levy Gale 2021) presents the example of the winning entry for the British Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Biennale of Architecture where Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese presented The Garden of Privatised Delights which explored a typology of public space reimagined for the 21st century.

7What we see with the example of the bullying of plein air artists, is that artists are disrupted by the crisis of public space in British cities. And yet, this urban crisis is actually what set off a crisis in the very genre of public art: accusations of failure to face instrumentalisation, of being co-opted by corporate interests and of working towards exclusivity rather than inclusivity.

  • 4 The 2020 Public London Charter published by the London Assembly set clearer principles for the incl (...)

8Responding to calls to curtail the heavy-handed monitoring of in-fact-non-public spaces in 2020, mayor Sadiq Khan released a new Public London Charter to help manage public spaces—whether publicly or privately-owned.4 This charter explicitly makes reference to the need for owners of public space to make provision for ‘public art’. This has actually already been the case for some time, quite simply because Margaret Thatcher was the one who imported percent policies from the US, and because corporate placebranding is very much aware of the allure of art. The commissioning of public art in Britain has become a highly hybridised affair with public funding matched by private money from funds, trusts, individual patrons and corporate sponsorship. Still, private developers claiming to have the necessary expertise to commission public art is a far stretch, with their interest lying mainly in retail and real estate.

9Alongside the US and Canada, Britain, has been at the forefront of a privatisation of the public domain. Under New Labour, the Streets of Shame initiative had shed light on public concern for public spaces. The government then devised a strategic policy for improving public areas under the responsibility of local councils, setting a new agenda for the reclamation of public space. Progressively faced with insufficient public funding in the Eighties and Nineties, local authorities decided to adopt a new public space management regime and, through the London Enterprise Partnership, to encourage promoters to take on some responsibility for maintaining the public expanse surrounding their private investments. The ambivalence of commercialised public spaces was formalised within Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), areas within which local businesses have been encouraged to invest beyond their private premises. The legislation enabling the formation of BIDs was passed in 2004, and the first BID started in 2005, originally to fight the growing seediness of iconic landmarks like Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square—BIDs were first created in Canada and had been implemented in the US since the Sixties. There are more than 200 BIDs in the UK today. By taking charge of their environment, and in a way annexing it, they decide to provide additional or improved services, all summed up on the City of London website under the phrase environmental measures. By taking care of adjoining public ways and squares, promoters can ensure that they are considered high quality, that they are prettified with the appropriate street furniture, that they are kept clean, but also secure. With the private sector in charge, the needs of shop owners are met and the prices of buildings are driven up, but also, the responsibility for shaping the environment changes hands, shifting from public authority to private businesses with some public funds sometimes allocated to boost their development.

10The rise of the creative city which derived from the cultural turn in urban policy which started in the 1980s and in which new art museums and cultural or heritage quarters lent a creative mask to urban redevelopment has aligned them to gentrification and subsumed them in consumerism. Both the BIDs and the POPS clearly reveal the vested interests behind capital's ‘cultural’ urban agenda.

The Fiction of Collectivity

11The King’s Cross Estate is the other main POPS in Britain, a sixty-seven-acre site owned by the King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership, and one of the largest areas of urban development currently taking place in Europe with its own assigned postal code of NC1. It expanded in the 19th century as a canal, road, and rail link to the Northern industrial cities but was later affected by vast industrial decline. Decommissioning ensued, and the area of the King’s Cross Estate became derelict lands of abandoned buildings and contaminated soil where, in the 1990s, old warehouse spaces were repurposed as art squats, famously housing the Cubitt Artists’ studios. In 2002, the artist Richard Wentworth, himself a long-term resident of King’s Cross, sited his Artangel-commissioned project An Area of Outstanding Unnatural Beauty in the vacant General Plumbing Supplies on York Way. Through an installation work comprising walks, talks, film screenings, and a table tennis tournament on specially made sculptural tables, his project tackled the very issues of regeneration, historical preservation, culture, and identity that were surfacing in these early stages of development. The construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in 2001, and the subsequent restoration of St Pancras International Station, the King’s Cross area has once again become a major international transport hub in central London. The heart of the estate, Granary Square, is one of the largest open squares in Europe. With the move of Central Saint Martin’s there, it can still be identified as a creative place. Still, the new relationship between the arts sector, with its flagship institution and art gallery, and the private commercial sector of urban regeneration and gentrification varies from the earlier temporary inhabitation of post-industrial urban areas and buildings under disrepair as artist studios, galleries, and sites for temporary art works.

12The role of art within the estate’s development was implemented into the King’s Cross Central Public Realm Strategy as early as 2004, in which it recognised that ‘activated, animated, welcoming public spaces are critical to the success of the development’ (The Art Programme at King’s Cross). To date there have been a series of temporary and permanently sited artworks that have taken place in these public spaces and within the buildings in the development, with some of them commissioned by the King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership through its appointed curators and The King’s Cross Project art commissioning programme. A much-publicised temporary art project was Of Soil and Water: King’s Cross Pond Club (2015–16) by artist Marjetica Potrč and Ooze Architects. Located in what is now Cubitt Park, the living art installation commission was the UK’s first ever chemical free fresh water public bathing pond. As an artwork it could be experienced in two ways; as a viewer, and/or as a swimmer (an active participant). Including the artist into the regeneration processes all too often also means the exclusion of non-commissioned works—poor Dave Crocker of course, but also the artist-run spaces of the 1980s which have now disappeared from such areas.

13Writing about the King’s Cross estate and comparing it to rural estates, artist and academic Pat Naldi has remarked that it is no surprise that in a coming together of the historical and contemporary fabrication and management of rural and urban landscapes, public for public use spaces have coalesced into privately owned estates: spaces that to all intents and purposes to the visitor appear to be public (Gould and Mesplède 2021). In this current scenario a situation in which the state makes society legible through the design of cities in order for the state to have command and control over its citizens, is being replaced by estates in which citizen spatial participation and contestation is regulated by the capitalist ideology of private estate owners—in 2011, for example, the Occupy movement in London was relegated to the steps in front of Saint Paul’s cathedral because PaterNoster Square had become a POPS which, according to the Guardian Cities map, is owned by Mitsubishi Estate.

14Pat Naldi denounces the fiction of ‘the aesthetics of social collectivity’ (Naldi 2021, 125) in the spaces of the King’s Cross Estate. For her, ‘what is posited and marketed as public squares, streets, and open spaces, are of course privately owned, managed and securitised for public use. It is predicated on agenda-ridden profiteering, based on the privatised capitalist concerns of a neoliberal society in which regeneration projects are invested and manifested as sites and sights of economic consumption’ (Naldi 2021, 125). There, the presence of the private owners and their managing company is very publicly carried out by employees in red-capped uniforms which are just as visible as the high-viz jackets of Carnaby Street, but also more discreetly conducted with CCTV.

15To this day private ownership of land/urban scape throughout England is held by a fraction of the population, whether individual—the legacy of the improved estates of the 18th century—or corporate capital investment. In London, the use of spaces which had lain fallow in the wake of deindustrialisation (the pond), but then also of the 2008 financial crisis were soon exploited, and even gained some attractiveness. Yet, just like graffiti was progressively absorbed into the mainstream art market, the countercultural nature of ephemeral usage and détournement has sometimes seemed to merely adopt its fashionable guise and amateurish aesthetics to in fact work as a facilitator for the acceleration of a global flux and for the monetisation of time and space.

Public Art in Context

16At the beginning of the 21st century, temporary projects had often aligned with local defence of public spaces against capitalistic appropriation. But once temporary uses became professional, they moved into the mainstream, and have now become associated with support for retail. Some strictly creative explorations which run parallel to any notions of commercialisation can still prove desirable for the owners of the property involved, because the negativity attached to vacant spaces, especially in a time of recession, can find a quick-fix in interim occupations. This had not been Michael Landy’s objective in 2001 with his work Break Down which consisted in all his possessions being destroyed on a conveyor belt in a disused C&A. The context was then overpowered by the work. But more systematic artistic occupations have meant that the commercial context started overpowering the work.

17Britain pioneered official support for such practices which allow to maintain some level of activity with reduced means, this with the help of the Department for Communities and Local Government and of the Arts Council: haunted by the image of boarded-up high streets, non-commercial temporary empty space reuse has been advocated through policies and public funding schemes throughout 2009 and 2010 to reinvigorate ailing town centres during the recession through arts-related activities.

18The Art in empty spaces initiative was launched in 2009 to make sure that town centres were not deserted and that, between more traditional occupations, empty spaces and shops could still attract visitors, who, considered as desirable footfall, could, incidentally, also be customers for the shops which haven’t closed. This means that while ephemeral art might obviously deal with works which do not appreciate in monetary value over time and might seem less concerned with their imprint on urban life, this ephemeral quality has nonetheless acquired a new weight at the turn of 21st century, transitivity suddenly being capable of addressing the new challenges the post-modern city faces and complying with its new timeframes. Its non-commodifiable nature, the valuation it had wanted to escape for ideological reasons, has turned commodity.

19Permanence was therefore no longer the sole criterion for commodification, but neither was, as I mentioned earlier, centrality and visibility. At the other end of a spectrum starting on the city square, some of the most fruitful investigations of public life and art started occurring in the most private, sequestered site of all—the home. For just as the public space has become diminished as a civic site, the home has become, in many senses, a more public, open forum. But issues progressively arose with art installations happening in houses.

  • 5 Seizure was commissioned by Artangel and created in 2010 at 151–189 Harper Road, London SE1, in a m (...)
  • 6 The maisonette blocks at Heygate were identified as a suitable interim space for an art interventio (...)
  • 7 Rivers used materials sourced from the old television sets to create viewing shacks in which he pre (...)

20In Southwark, where Roger Hiorns’ Seizure happened in 2008 to critical acclaim,5 the area of Elephant and Castle was designated for a controversial intensive redevelopment in which many long-term residents were forced to move out of their familiar surroundings and local communities, often far from London. In 2013, five years later, the project planned at the Heygate by Mike Nelson was thwarted by residents after a long campaign. Feeling the plan for a pyramid to be built thanks to a reconfiguration of empty flats was not going to represent the lived experiences of the people who had called these buildings home, nor going to comment on the injustice of their eviction, local committees dissuaded him to go ahead with the spectacular ephemeral site-specific artwork.6 In this case, the meanwhile space had become a minefield. Ben Rivers’ 2015 multi-projection work, The Two Eyes are not Brothers,7 installed in the vacant Drama Block at the BBC Television Centre in Hammersmith after it closed in 2013, and while it awaited redevelopment into more than 1,000 flats, a health club, restaurants, and offices, is a more recent example where the projected redevelopment of the empty buildings was directly advertised to the audience of the temporary artwork they came to see.

Sea Views

21The just city is one in which equity, democracy, and diversity are important considerations, and this is in contrast with the city as growth machine. Improvement in the situation of disadvantaged communities has long been a focus for urban planning and policy. Yet over the past three decades the ideological triumph of neoliberalism has caused the allocation of spatial, political, economic, and financial resources to favour economic growth at the expense of wider social benefits. Susan Fainstein’s concept of the ‘just city’ (Fainstein 2011) is one in which planners and policymakers develop an approach to justice relevant to 21st-century cities, one that incorporates three central concepts: diversity, democracy, and equity.

22What we witness today is that it is probably in the role of the city as an agent in the continuous re-invention of cultural identity and the concomitant ‘play’ of history that the definition of the just city (diversity, democracy and equity) has recently been the most obvious. While the promotion of public art had depoliticized it, recent de-commemorations have encompassed the long history of public art: from the statuemania of the 19th century to the experiments of public art in the expanded field. And what has shed light on this larger context has been the BLM movement. In Bristol, the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue was the apex of a campaign which had been waged by organisations for some time to end the cult of Colston in the city—where the dolphin of his family crest is omnipresent—and to challenge his status as a philanthropist who had built up a considerable fortune from the slave trade, and was involved in the sugar trade. His statue was erected in 1895, 174 years after his death, at a time when calls to end colonisation were being heard and the establishment required the status quo to be set in stone, so as to preserve what Franz Fanon has described thus: ‘A world divided into compartments, a montionless, Manicheistic world, a world of statues: the statue of the general who carried out the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge; a world which is sure of itself, which crushes with its softness the backs flayed by whips: this is the colonial world’ (Fanon 1965, 5152). The statue was eventually retrieved from the river and re-exhibited as a toppled and graffitied statue. Bristol native Banksy is said to have already graffitied it in the past. And after it was taken down, he suggested a replacement in the shape of a new statue, this time a representation of the moment it toppled. The debate around the toppling of statues has been very lively with three main trends: the denounciation of it as iconoclasm or vandalism (an aesthetic argument), the calls for recontextualisation (see for example the 2018 project Contextualising Colston by MSMR which would have set it against the diagram of the Brookes slave ship), and the call for removal pure and simple (implemented in London by Sadiq Kahn, and recommended by Nicholas Mirzoeff who observed that they were never ‘just statues’, but part of an apparatus used to allow racist violence to persist).8

23Works in public now rarely open up imaginary realities, rather, they now very often try to create new modes of action within the existing real. They can be both accountable and provocative, gentrifying and destabilising. Marc Quinn tried a temporary replacement With Jen Reid, but was reproached with imposing his work with the means of an established white London artist, at a time when proposals for public art commemorating the Windrush generation was taking very long to materialise. For artist Thomas J Price, Quinn had highjacked the movement and colonised the empty plinth. The Windrush public art is here today in Hackney with Veronica Ryan’s three Caribbean fruits, and Thomas J Price’s Reaching Out to be unveiled in 2022.

24Another crisis, Covid, accelerated a trend in soundworks as socially distanced works. Many experiments were undertaken in 2020 and 2021, and among them The Common Guild’s ‘In the Open Project which included Luke Fowler’s A Walk through a Different City, a sound portrait of Glasgow’s urban core, emptied out of human presence during the months of lockdown in 2020 taking the audience on a sonic journey that from the top of Sauchiehall Street, through a deserted Central Station and then under the Kingston Bridge, by the River Clyde. Alberta Whittle, as for her, worked on ‘Business as Usual: Hostile Environment’, for Glasgow international’s 2020 digital programme, an allusion to Theresa May’s immigration policy, and to the role of the Windrush generation in the NHS. A third example, Ashanti Harris’ project ‘History Haunts the Body’, also presented in 2020, relies on a complete dematerialisation through sound to foreground the effacement of a black female experience behind the national glorification of the exploration of the Atlantic, and its celebration of the power and the taste of white male shipping magnates. She explores the relationship between Guyana, where she was born, and Scotland, where she lives. She recalls how Guyana’s sugar plantations were worked by enslaved African people and governed predominantly by wealthy Scots, leading to movement between the two countries and the creation of a diaspora. She uses palimpsestic recordings of Cromarty Harbour and the sound of a passing ship to connect global experiences of migration, and extinction to the origin stories of racial and extractive capitalism.

25Interestingly, all these artists turn to the sea with sound. We think back to Colston’s exploitation over the sea of course, but also of the way these dematerialised works manage to load what Elizabeth Deloughrey (Deloughrey 2010) has called the heavy waters of the Atlantic. The context taken into account has indeed become much larger today, in what Deborah Cherry has called the afterlives of monuments, with their spatial situation being understood as context, but also their history.

26All these crises intersect with the climate crisis. By dating the emergence of the Anthropocene within a capitalist, colonial history, T.J. Demos has indeed identified a ‘racially defined, patriarchally encoded, and extraction-motivated petrocapitalism’ (Demos 2020, 11) which posits ecology and its efforts to overcome the multiple instances of the nature/culture binary, as intersectional with the history of racism. Demos finds in the video work of John Akomfrah, and more specifically in Vertigo Sea (2015) an interpretation of the ocean as ‘a multivalent site of geopolitical conflict, liquid nationality, and postnational uprooting, all set within still-unfolding histories of colonialism, migration, slavery, and environmental transformation’ (23). The sea which surrounds the British Isles is a haunting expanse of both beauty and meaning powerfully combined. In his 2018 essay, All Art is Ecological, Timothy Morton says that ‘the experience of art provides a model for the kind of coexistence ecological ethics and politics wants to achieve between humans and non humans’ (Morton 2021, 3). This relation with the non-human world is indeed at the core of his philosophy. He then goes on to say that the beginning of ecological art is ‘art that includes its environment(s) in its form’. (Morton 2021, 18)

27Here I hope to have touched upon what these environments can be, a form of what another contributor to British Art and the Environment, cultural geographer Stephen Daniels, calls ‘liquid landscapes’, and this by looking at the numerous recent works of public art with a seaview, works that try to look out to sea, just like Nelson’s statue on Trafalgar Square is supposed to be surveying the HMS Victory at Portsmouth, and ultimately the direction of Cape Trafalgar in southern Spain, but this time in a non belligerent, non proprietorial way.

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Cartiere, Cameron, and Jennifer Wingate, ‘The Failure of Public Art’. Public Art Dialogue 10. (2020.): 111–13,

Cherry, Deborah, ed., The Afterlives of Monuments, Oxford: Routledge, 2014.

Daniels, Stephen, ‘Liquid Landscape: Southam, Constable and the Art of the Pond’, British Art Studies, Special issue Landscape Now (November 2018), last accessed at on 21 June 2022.

‘Dave Crocker sur Twitter’. n.d. Twitter, last accessed at on Accessed 27 November 2021.

Deloughrey, Elizabeth, ‘Heavy Waters: Waste and Atlantic Modernity’, Publ. Mod. Lang. Assoc. Am. PMLA/Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 125.3 (2010): 703–12.

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Fanon, Franz, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), New York: Gove, 1965.

Gould, Charlotte, Artangel and Financing British Art. Adapting to Social and Economic Change. London and New York, Routledge, 2018.

Kayden, Jerold S., Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2000.

Levy Gale, Sadie, ‘Why Are Painters Getting Pushed out of Public Spaces?’, Apollo Magazine 15 July 2021, last accessed at on 21 June 2022.

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Naldi, Pat ‘Managing Arcadia: From the King’s Cross Estate to the Bretton Estate’, Charlotte Gould and Sophie Mesplède, British Art and the Environment: Changes, Challenges, and Responses since the Industrial Revolution, Farnham: Routledge, 2021.

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Straford, Brice, ‘The Death of Soho’, The Critic Magazine 24 April 2021, last accessed at on 21 June 2022.

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1 Shaftesbury’s annual report for 2021 offers the following description of their identity and purpose, insisting on a somewhat cryptic notion, that of ‘success beyond profit’: ‘As long-term custodians of our ownership clusters, we adopt a holistic approach to delivering long-term social and economic value for the benefit of our stakeholders. By combining our strengths, culture and values, we achieve success beyond profit to contribute to the success of the West End.’, last accessed April 22, 2022.

2 In 2008, the artist Nils Norman was invited by the Serpentine Gallery to explore the way the economic and physical structures of London affect the homeless who are discouraged from inhabiting its public space. This resulted in an installation and a publication featuring pictures of this so-called defensive urban furniture with its metal spikes, prongs, and railings.

3 A map charts the many pseudo-public spaces of London, revealing their size and the names of their owners:, last accessed April 22, 2022. The dataset reveals that Qatari and Kuwaiti are behind some of the city’s POPS.

4 The 2020 Public London Charter published by the London Assembly set clearer principles for the inclusivity and accessibility of ‘public space’ by spelling out eight principles: ‘public welcome’, ‘openness’, ‘unrestricted use’, ‘community focus’, ‘free of charge’, ‘privacy and data’, ‘transparency’, and ‘good stewardship’, all the while using the concept in the sense of outdoor spaces with, apparently, no distinction between privately owned spaces and dwindling areas held in common,, last accessed April 22, 2022. It followed the Public London: The Regulation, Management and Use of Public Spaces report which came out in 2019,, last accessed April 22, 2022.

5 Seizure was commissioned by Artangel and created in 2010 at 151–189 Harper Road, London SE1, in a modest late-modernist council flat condemned for demolition. In this interim space, Hiorns injected thousands of litres of copper sulphate solution which then crystallised to form a blue wonderland of gems. The choice of location referenced the post-war utopia of social housing but also questioned the very concept of home, because of the flat’s cramped, standardised interior.

6 The maisonette blocks at Heygate were identified as a suitable interim space for an art intervention by Artangel as they fitted perfectly Mike Nelson’s criterion for a municipal building susceptible of being rearranged into a monumental pyramid shape. Plans to regenerate the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle, had been drawn up in the late Nineties, with the whole area turned into an Opportunity Area renamed Elephant Park. The large concrete estate, famous for its brutalist architecture, and which housed about 3,000 people, was completed in 1974 but suffered from gradual neglect and was considered a sink estate. Its demolition started in 2011 to make way for an upmarket redevelopment in an area transformed by the success of Tate Modern. Out of the 2,500 flats which were built, only 79 were social housing, leading to a controversial mass eviction. See my book, Artangel and Financing British Art.

7 Rivers used materials sourced from the old television sets to create viewing shacks in which he presented five adaptations of passages from A Distant Episode, Paul Bowles’ 1947 novel about the abduction of a European man by Morrocan bandits.

8, last accessed April 22, 2022.

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Charlotte Gould, « The Inclusions and Exclusions of British Public Art: Creating Art for the Successful City, or for the Just City? »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 63 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2022, consulté le 07 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Charlotte Gould

Charlotte Gould is Professor of British studies at Université Paris Nanterre where she is a member of the research group CREA. The focus of her research is contemporary British art, as well as public art commissioning since the nineteen-eighties. Recent publications include Artangel and Financing British Art. Adapting to Social and Economic Change (Routledge, 2019) and British Art and the Environment. Changes, Challenges, and Responses Since the Industrial Revolution (co-edited with Sophie Mesplède and published by Routledge, 2021). She is a member of the Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (SAES), of the Association of Art Historians (AAH), and of the Public Statues and Sculpture Association (PSSA).

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