tue 27/10/2020

Preserve Paolozzi! | reviews, news & interviews

Preserve Paolozzi!

Preserve Paolozzi!

Tell Tube Lines to save the Tottenham Court Road mosaic

Some of London's most public, but probably least noticed, art is under threat: part of Eduardo Paolozzi's technicolour mosaics throughout Tottenham Court Road Tube station may have to be removed because of the station's massive Crossrail-led expansion.

As the Evening Standard notes, "The work will involve the loss of some tiles that make up arguably the most stunning artwork on the Underground - the coloured mosaics by the late Scottish artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi." There are bright saxophones and birds and coloured lines running amok, Pop Art dynamism in London's dynamic transportation network.

The artwork may be stunning, but I think most people pay no more attention to it than they do the digital ads which flash by as you take the escalators. Part of this is no doubt due to the grubby effects of ageing on the work, part to the rush of commuters concentrating on their destination or love life or the aural ambush of the iPod.

We have been well trained in respect of public art as an "event": a new sculpture on the fourth plinth attracts attention (especially when it involves rotating public performances, as per Gormley), and any property developer who wants a planning permit knows they have to have some sort of mediocre installation to distract from the banality of their buildings.

But it seems that Paolozzi's Tube mosaics were done for none of these reasons, but rather because, once, Tube bosses felt that even cattle-crowded commuters deserved energy and beauty on their journey. Let's try and make sure that as little as possible of the mosaic is removed by telling Tube Lines (who run the Northern Line) to protect it: their email is helpline@tubelines.com.

Update: Sign a petition to preserve the Paolozzi mosaics

Update 2: Transport for London have sent me this statement:

“London Underground highly values the Paolozzi mosaics within Tottenham Court Road Underground station, and alongside the Tube’s ‘Art on the Underground’ programme, we have been working closely with the Paolozzi Foundation as the Tottenham Court Road upgrade progresses. We are taking great care to protect and preserve these wonderful mosaics as we upgrade Tottenham Court Road station.

"As part of the upgrade of the station, major engineering works are required in the platform tunnels to strengthen them before new passageways are dug. This will mean that some sections of existing mosaic tiles will have to be carefully removed and reinstated once the tunnelling work is finished. Where small sections do have to be permanently removed from their current location, they will be preserved with the aim of being used elsewhere on the station in the future.”

Update 3: The Herald newspaper has run a big story on the Paolozzi mosaics

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It would indeed be a pity to see a major work like this vandalized in the name of progress. It is a reminder in these grim times that London was once a place of art and color.

I've enjoyed these mosaics for many years now. Many of us do notice bright, optimistic artwork, and would feel a great loss if these mosaics were ever to disappear.

I'm in two minds about this. Of course I want to see the Paolozzi stay in some form (and what does 'some tiles' actually mean? Your second update is in any case reassuring). On the other hand, the station passageways have always been horribly claustrophobic and clearly commuters could do with more space. The exits are a total nightmare, but that's another story

I may be horribly naive about modern journalism, but would it not have made more sense to check with TFL *before* running this story and starting the petition? On the other hand that would have left you with a much less exciting (though better-informed) article.

Thanks for the comment, Rebecca. In my defence, the TfL response is exactly the same as the one given on the Standard piece, which is linked to, and the response doesn't vitiate my piece at all: in fact, it strengthens it because they admit there will be parts removed, and the point of my piece is to let them that we are paying attention.

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