The Yorkshire woman helping to judge what will become the next landmark work of art

A Sky Arts programme aims to find a new public landmark. One of the judges is Yorkshire Sculpture Park director Clare Lilley. Catherine Scott reports.

Gemma Cairney Picture:: PA Photo/ ©Sky UK Ltd.

The hunt is on to find the next Angel of the North or Women of Steel with the launch of a new programme searching for the next public landmark.

Sky Arts asked 1,000 UK adults to share their favourite pieces of free-to-view outdoor artwork, before the list was whittled down to a top 20 by curator Clare Lilley, one of Landmark’s expert judges and director of programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, before 2,000 adults then voted for their favourites.

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Ray Lonsdale’s 2014 statue, called 1101 to mark the first minute of peace after armistice at 11am on November 11, 1918, is also known as Tommy came out on top. It was initially only meant to be a temporary display but following its unveiling, it became so popular that locals started a fundraising campaign to have it permanently installed.

Hetain Patel Picture: PA Photo/ ©Sky UK Ltd.

In 2015, after raising the £102,000 necessary, it was moved to a paved platform in the town, and a time capsule containing donated items, including a letter from Ray Lonsdale, a T-shirt, children’s artworks, war remembrances, and a Victory Medal was buried beneath it.

The moving sculpture, in Seaham, County Durham, took top spot following a nationwide poll by Sky Arts to celebrate the launch of its new series, Landmark, which will see a new wave of public art in the UK as the country’s best artists compete for the chance to create a brand-new national landmark.

Lonsdale’s work topped the list ahead of Andy Scott’s Kelpies, a giant horse installation in Falkirk, Scotland and the Uffington White Horse, the chalk hill figure in Oxfordshire.

Making up the top five was The Angel of the North, by Antony Gormley, and Martin Jennings’ Women of Steel in Sheffield.

“This list includes some really nice surprises,” says Lilley. “It’s curious what is missed from the list, such as Barbara Hepworth’s Winged Figure on the side of John Lewis on Oxford Street and Gillian Wearing’s Real Birmingham Family. Perhaps some public works are so integrated with their place that they become unseen. I think the public selection shows how figurative sculpture and narrative are seen to be incredibly important in terms of accessibility and conveying messages. Some of the sculptures also indicate the importance of place, forming a kind of bridge between history and now.”

The new show, due to be aired from Monday, is fronted by Gemma Cairney, who delves into the purpose and power of public art as she joins Sky Arts on a mission to create the UK’s next major landmark.

She is joined by Lilley and fellow expert judge, visual artist Hetain Patel – as well as six famous faces, all of them ready to root out the best artistic talent in the region or nation they call home.

As part of the series, Sky Arts is investing £700,000 in public art in total, commissioning 18 brand new pieces of public art around the country as well as a final national landmark worth £250,000.

Phil Edgar-Jones, a director at Sky Arts and Entertainment, said: “Public art can be a source of pride and love and it’s great to see such a thoughtful, passionate response in support of Tommy – a piece that means such a lot in his local community.”

Across six regional heats in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 18 artists compete with each other to create the UK’s next major landmark.

Each episode sees host Cairney, plus Lilley and Patel visit a different local area where a celebrity guest will join them to help root out the best artistic talent. The winner of each heat gets to pitch a final national landmark with a budget of £250,000, while the final prize is life-changing – the overall winning artwork will be housed in the City of Culture for 2021, which is Coventry.

The famous faces involved in the judging across the UK are broadcaster Mark Radcliffe, writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah, actor Russell Tovey, playwright Denise Mina, singer-songwriter Charlotte Church, and Game Of Thrones star Michelle Fairley.

“I couldn’t really believe that this was happening when I first got the email,” says Cairney, 36.

“I was like, ‘This can’t be real. We’re celebrating artists, I’m working with experts in their field, and being asked to be part of an entire series about so many things that I’m interested in.’ And it’s a genuine collaboration.”

The episodes see artists working across mediums varying from ceramics and bronze to LEDs and inflatables, and Patel – who grew up in Bolton – notes how, as well as there being such a diversity of practices involved, “no-one thinks like each other”.

“Clare and I got to visit the artists in their studios, and that was such a privilege, to be able to see people in their creative process, and often at times when you wouldn’t typically have people in there; when you make stuff, you tend not to invite people in at such early, crucial stages.”

Lilley is keen to highlight the “sheer engineering involved” in the pieces of art too.

“To see these people finding solutions for mad things, and then how they handle material and the decisions around which materials to use, how they built their teams – because sculpture always needs a number of people to create work, particularly if it’s going to withstand the elements and be outdoors for months or years on end – was fascinating to us. There’s always something to learn.”

Cairney revelled in being around her co-stars and talking about the art world and art history. But it was also eye-opening travelling to the different regions that make up the UK.

She says: “It’s very eclectic in terms of the history in different places, what the industry might have been in a place, someone’s lineage, someone’s story, the struggle that they may have overcome – whether that be deeply personal or something that’s collective in their areas.”

At the end of each heat, we will see the landmarks unveiled to the local community, who will then deliberate on which piece best sums up their area, alongside the judges. It’s a big decision on their hands – after all, the winner of the series will get to build and create a permanent national British landmark.

“The members of the public gave it considered, intelligent thoughts, and they brought their personal experiences into that, which hopefully we’ll see because some of them were in tears, and really revealed themselves,” reflects Lilley. “That’s something that I’ve seen public sculpture does a lot; people just have conversations.

“At points during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have witnessed a real sense of community, with neighbours supporting each other and finding common ground – and public art is undoubtedly another powerful tool in bringing people together.

“The inspired creations made throughout Landmark demonstrate the different ways people can express themselves, their identity, and pride in where they’re from.”

Landmark airs weekly from September 6 at 8pm on Sky Arts (Freeview Channel 11) and streaming service NOW.