Buren brightens up underground
The artist’s colourful, geometric work will appear in Tottenham Court Road station as part of a £1 billion expansion
By Julia Michalska. Web only
Published online: 02 June 2011
LONDON. French artist Daniel Buren's colourful, geometric art will adorn one of London's busiest underground stations as part of the £1 billion expansion of Tottenham Court Road. Commissioned by Transport for London for its Art on the Underground programme, the project is set to be completed by 2016.
A colourful series of diamond and circle shapes will cover the internal glass walls of the station. “I decided to work with very simple shapes so that I can respond to the requirements of the subway station in different ways”, said Buren. The work will become a major feature of the station's new entrance hall, designed to accommodate some 200,000 commuters and tourists a day. Transparent versions of the work will serve to section off the ticket areas. Buren is also designing a sculpture of the shapes for the station's ticket hall, which will be displayed behind glass, “like an antique”, said Buren. Tamsin Dillon, the head of Art on the Underground said: “We wanted to build on the underground's tradition of working with world-class artists. By collaborating with Buren, we are continuing this connection.”
Buren said that he did not create the design with a function in mind but recognised that travelling on the underground can be stressful. “It’s a very difficult situation for everyone,” he said. So he wanted to avoid creating something visually “irritating”.
“Working in the public sphere one must find a balance between being supple and being strong, so that one's work is not compromised,” he said, referring to the red tape involved in such a commission. For Tottenham Court Road, Buren originally intended to include the ceilings above the escalators, because they are “always very claustrophobic” he said. But Transport for London ruled that out saying it would be too difficult to maintain.
“Being in the public space, a work can have a very large audience. We know that the majority of people have their reservations when it comes to contemporary art. This is compounded when a work stops working or deteriorates, and in the end, the artist is always blamed,” said Buren. He is confident that London Underground's maintenance staff will be up to the job, however. “It's only a matter of cleaning, and tube stations are cleaned anyway,” he said.
Buren has become something of a public transportation designer du jour. He has also been commissioned by the French city of Tours to help design its new tram system. His ideas, which were presented at the beginning of May, include designs for the vehicles and stations, complete with sound and lighting effects.
Tottenham Court Road station already features a large-scale work of art: mosaic murals by the late Eduardo Paolozzi, designed in the early 1980s. When the refurbishment plans for the station were first announced, there were fears for the work. The majority of the Paolozzi mosaics are being preserved, while some smaller sections will removed to an alternative site, which is still to be identified.
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