The London-based artists Langlands & Bell unveiled a permanent installation in Piccadilly Circus tube station today (7 November). Their piece honours Frank Pick, the man who gave London’s public transport network a visual identity that impressed the world in the 1920s and 1930s. Pick commissioned leading designers and architects to create stations, commercial art and graphic design for the London Underground, including the first versions of the roundel still used today to mark each station’s name. Much of Piccadilly Circus is an art deco showpiece after it was modernised by Pick with the architect Charles Holden in the late 1920s.
“I’m sure [Pick] was a hard taskmaster, but he was also a visionary and a Utopian in his belief that art and design could transform the world,” says Ben Langlands. Titled Beauty < Immortality, Langlands & Bell’s text and roundel installation was commissioned by Art on the Underground with London Transport Museum and inspired by Pick’s notes in the margins of a lecture he gave in 1917.
The march of mobile phone technology has freed up wall space in the busy, art deco-style booking hall of Picadilly Circus station. Langlands & Bell’s homage to Pick is located where a bank of pay phones used to stand.
Among the sculptors commissioned by Pick were Eric Gill, Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein. As the managing director the transport network Pick commissioned posters by Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy and Edward McKnight Kauffer among others.
To mark the unveiling of the piece of public art on the 75th anniversary of Pick's death, the poet Ben Okri has written an epic poem inspired by the underground and Pick's role in masterminding every detail of its design between the two world wars.