All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


The Evil Empire is coming to south Clerkenwell.  The area has a long tradition of being home to scoundrels, robbers and ne'er -do-wells so Goldman Sachs or the 'Giant Vampire Squid on the face of humanity' as Rolling Stone described them are carrying on a long tradition.  They have got hold of the very large ex-telephone exchange at 70 Farringdon Street and will be using it as a centre for carrying on the toxic activities described in Greg Smith's recent resignation letter.

Most importantly though, the existing building, a rather drab modernist block houses the rather wonderful 1960s murals by Dorothy Annan celebrating the wonders of modern communication.  They are painted on ceramic panels in steel frames and were placed to enliven what would otherwise have been a very boring street-scape.
They are quite constructivist and have a sort of English Klee or Miro feel with abstracted imagery of teleprinters, aerials, switching gear, pylons, TVs and so on. Ironically Dorothy Annan was an unashamedly left wing artist.


Check them out soon if you can - the building will soon be demolished.  I don't mind that so much - it is fairly charmless although it is the place that the first international phone call from England was made in 1963. 

Thankfully the murals themselves have recently been listed and so will be saved but who knows where they will end up? As I mentioned here, the statues previously adorning the top of the Unilever building (which is also listed) disappeared into the CEO's Surrey garden during the renovation works so I wouldn't be surprised if these lovely things end up gracing Lloyd Blankfein's Mayfair pad now he knows they are valued.  

The bank had previously wished them destroyed.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad that the murals are being saved. When you said that the building was coming down you had me worried.

They've been painting over a lot of the street art in North Minneapolis lately, part of their "urban renewal" program. They called it graffiti, but it was beautiful. The bizarre part is that, after they paint over the original art, they hire professional artists to paint... more "graffiti". Graffiti that they have to pay for, that doesn't mean nearly as much as the originals. It makes no sense to me.

However, because it's North Minneapolis (mostly a bad neighborhood), no one really cares that much. If they were to paint over the pictures of Bob Dylan by the university, people would have a fit.

Kind of a rotten double standard, don't you think?

clerkenwell kid said...

I totally agree.

And there is this odd thing here that property developers are often obliged to spend some money on 'pubic art' in return for being allowed to do some pretty shabby things.

That kind of stuff is nearly always awful - decided on by committee or in the boardroom, trying to be populist and so on. Witness the cringe-makingly awful piece at St Pancras.

Another major work by Dorothy Annan - 'The Expanding Universe at the Bank fEngland was destroyed as recently as 1997

Anonymous said...

I have been wondering about those rooftop statues! What a swizz! Is noone objecting?


clerkenwell kid said...

Unfortunately not. They were not original to the building - in fact they were only put there in the eighties I think - but as anything attached to a listed building becomes listed by default they were protected.

And very charming.

I did some digging around a while back and they got very secretive and tight lipped about it all but a guy who works there told me the chairman or some other big wig had them removed and placed in his garden in Surrey.

Jack said...

Back from the Tindersticks gig last night in Madrid... Reading about the murals uncertain destination and wondering if I would be lucky enough to see The Real Tuesday Weld performing life sometime... Any plan to perform during the Olympics in London? I'm afraid not, but who knows. Maybe a tour in Spain? Why not... Dreaming wide awake.

clerkenwell kid said...

Jack - we will be playing again in London soon - various shows to be announced shortly - although I am planning to be away during the Olympics myself. They don't seem to have medals for any of the stuff I'm good at.

Jack said...

Thanks for the information. It's good to know that you will be performing live soon again in London. Hope I will be able to travel to see the show. Don´t know what olympic skills you're good at, but can imagine... Anyway you have already won a gold medal in my best bands ever list!
Best regards,

clerkenwell kid said...

Thankyou Jack - that is very good to know. More news re shows soon..

spillyjane said...

Once again, dodgy dealings in the city! This kind of thing really gets my goat.

Just like the old fancy bank they took down here - claimed they saved the facade and were going to put it up again somewhere, right away - that was almost 20 years ago now, so it's obviously never going to happen.

I'm sure if the facade could fit into some nouveau riche's cookie-cutter subdivision mansion it would be in there right now!

spillyjane said...

And oh, if you'd like to see some truly HIDEOUS public art, allow me to direct you to the Windsor Sculpture Garden.

I must admit that I do like the penguins - but ONLY because I, as a rule, care deeply for all things penguinian. Now that I look at them again, they seem like they would be better suited posing in a mini-golf course.

clerkenwell kid said...

Hey I quite like the Eve and her apple!
Also there is an Elizabeth Frink - I am fond of that too

spillyjane said...

As soon as I posted the link I thought of the Frink and felt bad about writing them all off as unlovely.

And I always did like Eve's tarty manicure. I suppose I am just quick to dismiss things here as I am often not in love with this city.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the photos/ news, such a lovely mural what a shame. Does anybody have any idea how long it will be before they demolish the building/ if it's still there now? I want to get down to London in time to see it, really hope I'm not too late! Many thanks - Sophie

clerkenwell kid said...

It is still there but they have planning permission and it is starting to look like a building site so I imagine it is imminent

Anonymous said...

Better get my skates on then - thanks for the heads up

Mary Garner said...

Hi! Really interesting post.
I'm currently doing a masters in conservation - specialising in the (lack of) enforced legislation on public art in Germany. Apparently it is optional there.
I would be really grateful if you had any resources as to where you got your information from? It would be nice to do a comparison between Germany and England, where they do at least appear to protect (most!) art.


clerkenwell kid said...

Hi Mary

Perhaps contact the twentieth century society

Older things in London at least seems to be much better protected than the more modern. It was a fairly long process to get these murals listed and protected - a move strongly resisted by Goldman Sachs.

Being listed offers some legal protection but Battersea Power Station is listed and is in a sorry state. Some would say that has been an intentional strategy by the developers because it is possible to have the listing removed if a structure becomes 'unsafe'