A Chichester space: what should go in it?

by
13 October 2009

On the 28th of this month, five world-class artists will pitch their ideas for a new commission for Chichester Cathedral. Anthony Cane charts the highs and lows behind the scenes

Ancient and modern: above: Chichester Cathedral nave with the Arundel screen CHICHESTER CATHEDRAL

Ancient and modern: above: Chichester Cathedral nave with the Arundel screen CHICHESTER CATHEDRAL

2 May 2008

Cathedral Chapter have an away-day at nearby Bosham Hoe. The third item on the agenda is simply “The Rood”.

A short paper from the Dean summarises a long-standing proposal to suspend what is, essentially, a large painted crucifix in the central aerial space within the cathedral. The proposed rood is just over a century old, and its last home was a now-closed East London church.

The main argument for doing so is missiological: to offset a perceived lack of Christian symbolism in the cathedral, particularly when entering from the west door. At the moment, visitors look down the nave and see the vibrant colours of the Piper tapestry (behind the high altar) through the stone arches of the 15th-century Arundel screen. Between the top of the screen and the vaulted ceiling high above is the proposed site for the rood.

It may have been the presence of two newish members of Chapter, or an architect’s drawing showing what the proposal would look like, but discussions soon get to the heart of the matter: do we really want to place something above the Arundel screen? If so, is it right to do this with something designed for a different era, and a different church? It falls to me to bring the issue back to Chapter with a short paper.

9 June 2008

Chapter discuss my paper. I suggest that the key question is: if we are seeking to make a statement about following Christ in the 21st century, is the installation of the rood the best way to achieve this? Not everyone is convinced, but some agree that, in the light of this question, there is something to be said for a con­temporary work.

One member speaks in favour of an artwork representing the resurrection; another feels strongly that whatever we do must not be obscure or abstract. A third wonders how we could possibly raise the necessary funds.

No one is sure how to proceed. Butthe energy and animation is encouraging. I am sent away to do further research.

Summer 2008

Summer 2008

The Precentor tells me that his wife has suggested linking our discussions to the centenary of Dean Walter Hussey’s birth next year. This strikes me as a key insight. After all, it is mainly because of Hussey’s legacy that Chichester Cathedral has a reputation for modern art in an ancient setting. He commissioned the Piper tapestry, the Chagall window, the Sutherland painting in the Mary Magdalene Chapel, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and more.

Some preliminary research, with the help of Laura Moffatt at ACE (Art and Christianity Enquiry), indicates that Chapter need to decide on whether to approach a single artist, have an open competition, or nominate five or six artists to submit designs. It also becomes evident that Chapter would do well to seek the advice of an arts consultancy.

I ring the chief executive at St Martin-in-the-Fields and get a frank, but extremely positive, assessment of working with Vivien Lovell, director of the arts consultancy Modus Operandi, on the St Martin’s redevelopment.

Vivien’s preferred working method, I discover when I call, is by invited competition with a selection panel advising Chapter, who retain the right to make the final decision — or indeed to decide that none of the proposals are right for the space. It sounds impressive. But it won’t be cheap.

19 September 2008

The idea of a contemporary com­mission in memory of Dean Hussey is proposed. There is unanimous agree­ment in Chapter.

January 2009

After a presentation by Vivien, Chapter agree to employ Modus Operandi. An artistic and theological brief is produced in consultation with Vivien, the cathedral Surveyor of the Fabric, and Chapter themselves. We are seeking a contemporary inter­pretation of the resurrected Christ: an artwork that expresses “new life, trans­forma­tion, and hope”.

We issue a leaflet to the cathedral congregation explaining our plans. In the months to come, this is followed up by a multitude of cathedral meetings. The Dean receives just two letters about the leaflet. Both are critical. One (from a retired clergyman) is so eloquent about leaving things as they are that we decide to copy this to shortlisted artists.

March 2009

Our hopes that the Dean’s brother, Sir Christopher Frayling, will chair the selection panel are dashed: he is too busy in the run-up to his retirement from the rectorship of the Royal College of Art. So we are delighted when Tim Llewellyn, until recently director of the Henry Moore Founda­tion, agrees to take on the job.

29 April 2009

The selection panel meets to consider a list of 29 artists, all but four of whom I have never heard. The “professionals” sit on one side of the table — among them, the director of Pallant House Gallery, Chichester; and John Maine, a sculptor and member of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England. The cathedral community are on the other. I ask myself how this can possibly work.

We get a fascinating introduction to all the artists: about half a dozen images for each, alongside succinct biographical and professional in­formation. There is a huge variety of style and content.

Tim invites us individually to grade each artist as an A (definite), B (possible), or C (definitely not). Surprisingly quickly, our 29 has become 12. Consensus emerges around eight. We leave with a palpable sense of excitement and expectation, hopeful that at least five will accept the opportunity to submit a proposal to the next panel meeting.

Tim invites us individually to grade each artist as an A (definite), B (possible), or C (definitely not). Surprisingly quickly, our 29 has become 12. Consensus emerges around eight. We leave with a palpable sense of excitement and expectation, hopeful that at least five will accept the opportunity to submit a proposal to the next panel meeting.

Photo credits, left to right:
Stephen White/Lars Gunderson; John Kellet/Loring McAlpin; John Riddy/Charles Hopkinson

Photo credits, left to right:
Stephen White/Lars Gunderson; John Kellet/Loring McAlpin; John Riddy/Charles Hopkinson

15 May 2009

A special evensong in memory of Dean Hussey is held in the cathedral, followed by the official launch of the commission. The congregation is promised that funding will be sought from private donors and trusts rather than the cathedral’s budget. In this we have had a helpful “windfall” — a legacy specifically for the beauti­fication of the cathedral. The legacy provides sufficient funds to take us up to the point of choosing a winning design, but not for the actual artwork.

12 June 2009

The day of the first briefing arrives. Dorothy Cross, Antony Gormley, Ana Maria Pacheco, Cornelia Parker, Jaume Plensa, and Mark Wallinger have all agreed to participate.

Tim, Vivien, and I meet Mark at the west door of the cathedral. He is friendly and unassuming, and seems genuinely awestruck by the cathedral. We walk around, and then go up on to the top of the Arundel screen. We gaze first west, down the nave, then east, into the quire. We look up to the vaulted ceiling and the painted roof-boss above us. We discuss the amount of weight that can be safely suspended through that boss.

Mark takes photographs, and we retire to the cathedral’s Cloisters Café for lunch. He is happy with the theological brief, although at this stage is unsure how he will approach the project. We digress into his love of horse-racing.

After Mark has left, Tim presses me whether a literal representation of the brief is required. To what extent is there room for interpretation?

After Mark has left, Tim presses me whether a literal representation of the brief is required. To what extent is there room for interpretation?

Photo credits, left to right:
Colin Harvey/National Gallery, London; Laura Plensa

Photo credits, left to right:
Colin Harvey/National Gallery, London; Laura Plensa

Summer 2009

The briefings prove fascinating. Ana Maria Pacheco is able to give a detailed description of what her proposal will look like. Cornelia Parker is not, but is interested to learn of the collapse of the spire in 1861, and speaks of its rebuilding in terms of resurrection.

The incidental information is fascinating, too. I learn (to my envy) that Jaume Plensa is a Barcelona season-ticket holder, and that Antony Gormley remembers with gratitude how, as a young artist, he was greatly encouraged by Dean Hussey.

20 September 2009

The artist shortlist is announced to the congregation. Many express excite­ment at the stature of the names. The artists are set to make their proposals to the selection panel on 28 October. An exhibition of these will be mounted in the cathedral from 16 November to 14 December.

7 October 2009

I receive an email from Vivien to say that Cornelia Parker has decided to withdraw. Cornelia considers that the ideas she is exploring are “pushing the envelope” too far to have any chance of being accepted. This is extremely disappointing, and I wish we could see what those ideas are. On the other hand, we still have five fantastic artists on the shortlist — the number we originally intended. With three weeks to go before seeing the proposals, I am both excited and terrified. . .

Members of the public are invited to view and give feedback on the designs, in the cathedral from 17 November to 14 December, 7.15 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more details, phone 01243 782595 or visit www.chichestercathedral.org.uk/dyn/_news/major-new-art-commission-at-chichester-cathedral.shtml.

The Revd Dr Anthony Cane is Canon Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral.

The Church Times will follow the next stages of the competition.

The Revd Dr Anthony Cane is Canon Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral.

The Church Times will follow the next stages of the competition.

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