Over the past week, we’ve seen and heard a lot of things about LOOK II, the Antony Gormley-designed sculpture that was installed at West Hoe Pier back in September.
Some of the things have been positive and some of the things have been negative. That’s fine – public art is all about debate.
But some of the things have been darn right untrue, so we thought we’d try and clear a few things up.
What is Look II?
LOOK II is a sculpture that stands on West Hoe Pier in the place where Sir Francis Chichester landed in 1967 in Gipsy Moth IV, becoming the first person to sail single handed around the world. It was designed by world famous artist Sir Antony Gormley OBE, who also designed the iconic Angel of the North and was unveiled in September 2020 to mark the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth.
Why has Plymouth got Look II?
Planning started in earnest for the Mayflower 400 Programme in 2017, when the Council’s Cabinet agreed to support a number of major projects to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. The programme had cross-party support and included a ‘world class artwork’ to be unveiled in 2020, along with the opening of the Box and a series of other projects to make sure the city made the best of all the opportunities of being in the world spotlight, and also had a lasting legacy for Plymothians.
So who is Rusty Reg?
Rusty Reg is the nickname given to Look II by Plymothians – and we can see why! The sculpture is designed to have a rusty look, but the engineers and designers have calculated that it’ll still be sturdy after 100 years as long as we look after it for future generations to enjoy.
What's it made of?
Look II is made from 22 blocks in one cast iron form, stacked like a house of cards but substantial, like the stones of Stonehenge. The sculpture weights nearly three tonnes, and sits on a stainless steel base, with substantial foundations within the pier.
What does it mean?
Like all art, this is subjective. The artist hoped that the work would evoke the yearning to travel across the horizon in order to establish a new life in another place. He wanted to transmit our old-world admiration for the skyscrapers of New York while linking them to our megalithic past.
How much did it cost?
The Council signed a legal agreement with Sir Antony that it wouldn’t disclose the cost of Look II. This is common practice with art commissions, because the price of one piece of work can influence the value of other work by the same artist. Artists would think twice about doing business with the Council or The Box if they knew that we broke our promises about confidentiality. The Council is committed to being open about how it spends public money, and this is one of very few exceptions to that rule. The independent Information Commissioner’s Office agreed in November 2020 that we have taken the right approach to this.
I saw a figure of £750k being bandied about. Is that right?
No, that figure included a number of projects in that area including essential strengthening works to protect West Hoe Pier against damage from the sea. The sculpture did not cost £750k.
Can you say how it was paid for?
Yes, Look II was funded through the Council’s capital programme where major housing, transport, infrastructure and other city assets are paid for. Look II was part of the Mayflower 400 programme for the city, where the Council’s contribution of £5m was matched by another £4.5m from other organisations like the government, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council.
Shouldn't you have sorted out potholes or helped homeless people before you spent this money?
The simple answer to this is no - they come out of two completely different budgets. Core services, like road repairs, adult social care and waste collection are all funded through the revenue budget (ie, what we receive in Council Tax). The money that went toward Look II came from the capital programme, which is made up of loans, grants from the government and contributions from other agencies. Councils don’t spend revenue money on capital projects.
Why did you pay for it and install it in the middle of a pandemic?
We didn’t plan to. Decisions about funding a monument were made back in 2017 so that it would be unveiled to mark the Mayflower 400 celebrations. Consultation about installing Look II took place in January and February 2020, and the planning application was submitted on 5 February – so all the work was done before the pandemic struck.
Why is Look II a good thing for Plymouth?
Antony Gormley is famous around the world. It's a real coup to have one of his artworks here in our city. We hope that the sculpture will act as an attraction for visitors to the city from around the region and the rest of the country. They will come to Plymouth, they'll eat, they'll probably shop, they might even stay over, which puts more money into the Plymouth economy and in the long term, helps residents and businesses to prosper.
Well I think it looks rubbish and so do my friends
That's fine, you don't have to like it. As we said before, art is subjective and you're absolutely entitled to your opinion. But the fact that you've discussed it with your friends means that as a piece of public art, it's doing its job. We've had feedback from people who love Look II and people who hate it. But it has caused a discussion, and has definitely taken its place amongst the sights that our fantastic city is known for.