Not that multiple nights of stuffing your face and drinking lovely wines at London’s great restaurants is a bad thing, but after a few evenings of this it does start to take a toll on your wallet…and your waistline. So what’s a person to do on a quite Wednesday night? How about a wander around the city in search of modern sculpture installations? Culture, exercise and exploring? Sign me up! It sounded like a great idea when my London-based friend suggested meeting up to follow the trail. And so she and I embarked upon the Sculpture in the City free, self-guided walking tour (yep, I said free, in case you just blew your entire travel budget on a Harrods shopping spree).
Visiting the Sculpture in the City website will give you all the information you need to get started. You will find a map of the 18 sculptures on the tour, directions to download an app that you can use to learn about the artwork, and information about what social media hashtag to use to tell all your followers what you’re up to. The website also shows you images of all of the sculptures that you will find on the walk, though if you’re like me, skip that step and instead treat it more like a scavenger hunt. (Note: I’ve added photos of a few of the sculptures here, but only a few as I do not want to ruin it for you if you like surprises like I do.) In the end, it was the hunt that made all the difference for my friend and I, not being quite the connoisseurs of modern sculptural art as we would have liked to believe. But more on that later.
While the Sculpture in the City website does provide you with a “treasure map” of where to find the sculptures, be warned that it is not the most detailed map, and you may have to do a bit of wandering around and doubling back to find all of the pieces. But that can be part of the fun.
To start, get yourself to the St. Botolphs Church which is within walking distance of the Liverpool Street Tube/Train station. Once at the church, you will find the first piece of artwork: appropriately an open door to start your adventure. Hang out in the door frame, take a couple of pictures then wander on to statue number two.
If you’ve downloaded the SMARTIFY app, you should be able to point your phone at the sculpture and a description will pop up to give you some background on the art and the artist. Perhaps it was my slow, overseas 3G phone speed, but I could rarely get the app past the “scanning” phase. And while the app seemed to work better on my friend’s local phone, she reported that the app drained her battery pretty quickly. In the end we opted to just read the descriptions on placards close by each of the installations as it seemed to have the same information as the app. And it was when we began reading the descriptions that the head scratching and general comedy ensued.
Neither of us being particularly well attuned to the subtleties of modern art, we often found ourselves challenged to follow the logic behind the art work descriptions. You’ve been there before…looking at what appears to be a crumpled up piece of paper only to read the printed description of the artwork which claims that it symbolizes the juxtaposition of the affect of modern technology and ancient Himalayan rights of passage experienced by the artists who grew up on an isolated soybean farm in central Iowa. Oh! Silly me…I thought it was just a crumpled up piece of paper.
I’ll take the blame on this one. I’m sure I’m just a little too “uneducated” to pick up on the subtle clues found in brightly painted volcanic rocks or alien cocoon like creations, and please don’t let my lack of artistic education dissuade you from taking this tour. For me it eventually became more about the hunt for the artwork, enjoying a evening stroll through the city and seeing some amazing architecture that is the backdrop of this part of London. Not feeling the artwork? Just look up and take in close up views of the Gherkin, the industrial facade of the Lloyds of London building or the remaining stone wall of a church that was built hundreds of years before. You will still feel inspired and enlightened.
By the time we reached the last of the 18 sculptures, we had walked about 1.5 miles at a leisurely pace: from Liverpool Street station down to Fenchruch Street Station. The walk was easy and relatively flat, with just a few stairs and construction areas to navigate through. And what did we do after we finished the 18 stop walking tour? Well, we of course stuffed our faces and drank lovely wines at one of London’s great restaurants. Some things just shouldn’t change!