Modern art is often on a quest to shock and surprise, to subvert expectations and create a sense of awe we experience all too rarely. As their audience becomes inured to unusual items discovered and repurposed as art objects, as in Duchamp’s The Fountain, artists have to push conventions further to find that novelty that can persuade a jaded audience it hasn’t yet seen everything. Some artists become more and more shocking, with Damien Hirst, for example displaying a series of dissected and preserved animals. Some become more personal, as with Tracey Emin’s own, unmade bed.
Another route some artists go down is sheer, awe inspiring size. Art on a grand scale still has the ability to inspire awe – to create a genuine, uncynical reaction.
Zurab Tsereteli is one of the masters of this technique – with a string of sizeable statues to his name that have made his name around the world, and been a major part of how Russia has built diplomatic links with other countries after the collapse of the USSR. His ‘To The Struggle Against World Terrorism’ was presented to the United States in the period after the attack on the World Trade Centre, is a bronze tower, 106 feet tall, with a tear drop suspended in it, itself 40 feet tall. The scale of the monument is as impressive as the craft that has gone into making it, and it’s a potent symbol of the cooperation and support in the wake of tragedy between two nations, even ones with as troubled a history as the USA and Russia.
His other works are no less impressive, including the 2 ton treble clef, covered in gold mosaic that sits on top of the Moscow International House of Music and The Birth of a New World which is 350 feet tall, and when it was built in 2014 became the tallest sculpture in North America.
Residents of the UK may be more familiar with another piece of modern art, especially if they travel through the North East of the country: The Angel of the North. This 66 foot tall stylised angelic figure sits on a hill overlooking the A1, meaning it looms over and embraces tens of thousands of people each day. Initially a controversial project, it’s now a beloved local artwork, and has been called an icon and used to represent the local area or the country in film and television.