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Before and after: how Covid-19 has left world's most famous public artworks deserted

'Cloud Gate' in Chicago and 'Landseer Lions' in Trafalgar Square in London are among some artistic city symbols with no visitors amid the pandemic

Anish Kapoor's 'Cloud Gate' in Chicago. Getty
Anish Kapoor's 'Cloud Gate' in Chicago. Getty

As the coronavirus pandemic continues – now with more than four million confirmed cases globally – only museums and galleries that are closed off to art enthusiasts. Works of public art that are symbols for the major cities they are placed in have also had no visitors as most people follow lockdown rules or social distancing measures.

The National looks at these once-bustling sites before and after the outbreak of Covid-19.

'Urban Light' at Lacma, Los Angeles

Opening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in February 2008, Chris Burden’s Urban Light has become a symbol for the institution and the city. Made up of 202 historic streetlamps from the 1920s to 1930s, this large-scale installation gives the appearance of classical design akin to museums in the US East Coast. But in reality, its modern design is very much part of California’s history as the lamps were once spread across the southern part of the state.

The origin of the work goes back to a chance encounter, when Burden came across a lamp collector in a flea market. The collector eventually passed on the lamps to the artist, who had them sandblasted and powder-coated for the artwork. In 2018, actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental foundation replaced all the incandescent light bulbs with LED ones, reducing the artwork's energy consumption and providing 90 per cent power savings for Lacma.

'Cloud Gate' at Millennium Park, Chicago

Nicknamed The Bean, this stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor is located on the plaza of Millennium Park in Chicago. It is a striking work, reflecting the city’s skyline on its curvature made of 168 steel plates that are seamlessly welded together. Kapoor drew inspiration for Cloud Gate from liquid mercury for this design, and its reflective quality allows the sculpture to transform as the light and its surroundings change with the seasons.

Unveiled in 2004, the sculpture is Kapoor’s first permanent outdoor work in the US, and it has become a popular site for tourists. Visitors can walk under Cloud Gate’s concave underbelly and can interact with the artwork too. While Millennium Park remains open, the plaza on which Cloud Gate stands is closed due to the pandemic.

Landseer Lions in Trafalgar Square, London

Guarding the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, the four bronze lions are named after their creator, sculptor Edward Landseer. These beasts face some of London’s most significant and historical buildings, including the Houses of Parliament, the British Museum and the National Gallery.

It took years for the lions to settle into their spots though. Landseer was commissioned to design them in 1858, but they were not installed until 1867. During that in-between period, the sculptor worked on the sketches, spending hours at the London Zoo to study the big cats. When a lion at the zoo died, he kept the cadaver in his studio positioned like the present-day sculptures to inform his drawings and models.

'Charging Bull' in the Financial District of Manhattan, New York

Visitors can tell they have reached Manhattan’s Financial District when they see the Charging Bull by Arturo di Modica. Installed in 1989, the large, imposing bronze figure has come to represent the typical ethos of Wall Street – aggression, ambition and prosperity. Indeed, when market sentiments are bullish, investors have much to celebrate.

One of New York City’s most popular tourist attractions, the bull was joined by another sculpture in 2017. Kristen Visbal’s Fearless Girl, which depicts a young child facing up to the animal with her arms defiantly akimbo, was unveiled ahead of Women’s Day and is meant to embody women’s empowerment.

At the time of writing, New York stands as the US state most affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the country, with more than 337,000 cases so far, according to the John Hopkins University data.

Updated: May 13, 2020 10:47 AM

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