Public Art of Canary


By Jonathan Berg In 1968 I went to secondary school in Mile End with many classmates who had been brought up on the Isle of Dogs. As our train to school went past Poplar and on to Fenchurch Street, I remember looking across to the Isle of Dogs. Back in the late 1960s the London Docks were still working and you could see the tops of the boats. This was just twenty five years after the end of WWII, and the area was still a mix of bomb sites, poor housing and ageing industry. In the 1980s along came Canary Wharf. I had moved on to Birmingham and only ventured back to my roots occasionally. I went to a conference at Excel around 2000. Taking the DLR through Canary Wharf was eye opening. I spent an afternoon looking round at the public art and modernistic architecture. What I saw really impressed and now, 20 years later, on a cold and wet April day in 2024 I I returned. It was incredible to discover just some of the 100 public art pieces now at Canary Wharf. Bronze Castings Abound… One thing that struck me was just how much of the public art was finished in bronze. The overall feel is of no expense spared public art. In fact this fits with the rest of Canary Wharf, where the quality of the materials in the built environment gives a feel that cost containment was not an issue. Marble and granite paving and garden enclosures and manicured surroundings - everything so clean and well maintained, all a huge contrast to Birmingham. Change on the Wharf Canary Wharf has had an eventful life. The first Canadian owners saw their project file for bankruptcy in 1992. Then in 1996 the IRA marked the end of their truce with a huge lorry bomb at South Quay. Lehmann Brothers financial collapse saw their 33 storey tower vacated in 2008. Today sees another large scale change in fortune. Post covid, different ways of working, together with a drive to move head offices back into the city of London sees the pressure is on again for Canary Wharf. Before covid Canary Wharf station could see 120,000 passenger movements a day but this can be under 20,000 today. Canary Wharf is seeing major clients planning to move out. For example HSBC plans to move to offices around half the size in the City in 2027. Its 8,000 staff have enjoyed over two decades in their Norman Foster designed office tower, travelling in and spending money in the shops and fast food stores. More Change Canary Wharf is adapting, by converting some of their office estate into apartments. However many of the office blocks are not easy to convert with very deep open floor plan offices and glass facades, not ideal without expensive alterations. Some even suggest that demolition of some of the familiar prestige office tower is a pragmatic way forward. Having said this the estate agents have moved in and you can buy a studio apartment for a cool £567k. Alongside there are plans for schools to be built as the area renews itself as a more mixed mixed development.
Discover the amazing public art of Birmingham in the new book by blog writer Jonathan Berg. Signed copies from the publisher here….. Amazon discounted price here…
Sacrificial Anode Eilis O’connell, 2007 Fortuna Helaine Blumenfeld, 2016 After a 2020 exhibition 8 pieces by Blumenfeld were retained. Draped Seated Woman Henry Moore, 1957 – 58 The Canary Wharf estate is clearly a secure location for high value public art Avatar Robert Worley, 2009 A hawk-like beast with a human form in it’s back. Two Men on a Bench, Giles Penny, 1995 The artist has a number of large scale pieces around the UK including ‘Signalman’ outside Wolverhampton train station.  Man with Arms Open Giles Penny, 1995 The Penny sculptures were part of a Millennium exhibition then purchased.
It Takes Two Bob Allen, 2002 A bronze of a yew wood carving. An early piece by the artist who went full time in 2000.
Centurione I Igor Mitoraj (1944-2014), 1987 One of three pieces by this Polish artist at Canary Wharf.
Testa Addormentata, Igor Mitoraj, 1983 The bandaged face of Testa Addormentata (‘Head Asleep’). An early 19th C map showing the West India Docks at the northern end of the Isle of Dogs which now forms Canary Wharf

© Birmingham Picture Library, 2024