Art is an inherent part of London’s Underground network, whether built into station structures like Edward Paolozzi’s mosaics at Tottenham Court Road station or TfL’s regular Art on the Underground initiative. For the new Elizabeth Line - originally called Crossrail and running from Reading and Heathrow to the west of London to Shenfield in Essex – the corporation behind it has commissioned nine artists to produce site-specific works at seven of the most central stations from Paddington to Canary Wharf.
Seven of the artists were previously announced, with Yayoi Kusama and Conrad Shawcross added today – alongside an exhibition providing a preview of the works at the Whitechapel Gallery called Art Capital: Art for the Elizabeth line. We went to check it out, viewing well-displayed smaller versions and subsets of the works, along with additional insight provided by sketches and models.
Yayoi’s Infinite Accumulation outside Liverpool Street station will garner the most interest. It’s the Japanese artist’s first permanent installation in the UK, with Yayoi being the world’s most popular artist in terms of museum attendance in 2014, according to Art Newspaper.
While we’ve only seen a digital rendering and model of Yayoi’s Infinite Accumulation, it isn’t necessarily what you might associate with the artist – lacking the density and colour of much her art, with a feeling that her work has been stripped of her personality and made corporate. Art for Capital, rather than Art Capital, perhaps.
Infinite Accumulation is a series of connected ultra-reflective spheres. While this links to Yayoi’s famous Infinity Mirrors and use of polka dots, it exists in a public space rather than the enveloping world we expect from Yayoi – reflecting back the grey, sanitised banking world around it.
More interesting will be Chantal Joffe’s paper collage A Sunday Afternoon in Whitechapel, which will appear on that station’s platforms. While we’ve only seen studies, these characters seem more in touch with people of the area than the place itself.
Drawing on the work of Picasso and Matisse, the characters are based on people observed by Chantal passing by the gallery.
Tottenham Court Road gets two works. Richard Wright’s artwork draws on geometric and baroque patterns, and for the station he’s creating a delicate web of gold leaf designs that will spread across the entrance to the escalators at the ticket all. This has the potential to be rather beautiful.
From what we’ve seen, Douglas Gordon’s neon representation of Soho offers a clichéd view of 1960s London. While it’s inherent in these kind of commissions that they should always present a positive portrayal of London to tourists and commuters, if an artist is going to engage with the sleazier side of Soho then their work should at least acknowledge how it has both exploited and protected sex workers over its history.
These clouds sketched in pastels by Spencer Finch will be digitally printed onto glass across a huge glass ceiling at Paddington station.
Darren Almond’s boiler plated texts in bronze and aluminium will appear in the ticket hall and escalators at Bond Street.
Simon Periton’s metal and papercut work at Farringdon draws on the metalwork of Smithfield market and the Hatton Garden diamond quarter.
Michal Rovner’s digital installation at Canary Wharf echoes the flows of people through the station.
Returning to Liverpool Street, Conrad Shawcross’ large scale bronze sculpture is designed to be visually harmonious.
Art Capital: Art of the Elizabeth line runs until May 6.