Bronco Bruce

Today a statue was unveiled in Aberdeen. The city’s benefactor Robert the Bruce astride a horse holding aloft the charter he issued in 1319 from which Aberdeen’s Common Good Fund came about.

The statue sits in front of the council’s new HQ, Marischal College and is rather dwarfed by the proportions of Europe’s second largest granite building.
You don’t get much for £120,000 nowadays so it was never going to be, well, statuesque.

Art, including urban public art should not be judged on value for money but on the impact it has on the people who mill about beneath it, who use it as a landmark for meeting friends, who pause to have their photographs taken in front of it – or on it if bold enough to clamber up the robust granite plinth. No, the role of public art is to wow, to make you smile, to think, to admire, to impress, to reveal something about its location. It should be intrinsically interesting and not pander to utilitarianism – other than those activities listed above.

The best public art has vitality about it. Many of us think immediately about Barcelona and the sculptures which can be found around many corners which add to the vivacity of the place and just make you feel better for their being there.


So does The Bruce do that? Not for me. It reminded me of a piece of Victorian sculpture not too far away on Union Terrace, the horrible Prince Albert statue.

A seated Albert, motionless, idle, pompous, and thoroughly boring at least was conceived and created during the Victorian period. To produce a Victorian piece in the 21st century is incredibly disappointing.
Actually Albert disappointed Victoria when she unveiled it in 1863, finding it lifeless – she thought it would be enhanced with a bit of colour – and so the recent addition by some wag of giving him a red moustache might have found favour with the old bird. Personally I think the public would pay to press a button to have him shoot up from his chair from time to time. Either that or remove the abomination entirely from the little garden. No room for bad art which takes me back to the Bruce.

Vox pop at the site, actually a wifie who came along and chatted to me when she saw me taking photos, was approval. I’ve since heard another couple of people saying they like it. That’s good. Maybe it will become a favourite with people, generally, not me, however. I see the whole enterprise as a lost opportunity.

I have no argument with commemorating the Bruce although it wouldn’t be the first thing in my mind to celebrate in Aberdeen. I have long been banging on about really commemorating the granite industry and welcome this year’s festival. But, but Aberdeen should long ago have erected a major piece of art – even a huge steen- to mark the importance of granite to the North East. Other places have done it – like at Barre in the US where loads of Aberdeen loons went to work at their trade in the 19thC.

Sorry, back to Bruce.

If you compare the sculpture with the wonderful Wallace statue – the best in Scotland for sure- which exudes power and boldness and purpose – figurative as well, as was the tradition in the 19thC. Figurative works can be problematic if not imaginatively treated and this is my criticism of Robert the Bruce. It is out of time and for its size it is out of place.

Was there ever an opportunity to introduce a piece of inspired and clever art – say an abstract piece denoting Bruce’s donation of the Forests of Stocket to the city – created as a thicket of trees or something of that kind – just not boringly figurative – a mannie on a horse selling the P & J.

You wouldn’t ask a plumber to choose your wallpaper for you sittingroom would you? Or the fishmonger to repair your roof so why allow someone with no artistic training and demonstrably ignorant of the potential of public art to designate the type of sculpture which was to be considered? I’m referring to councillors here. This immediately limits the potential of the enterprise – limits the possibilities, the ability of artists to stretch their inventiveness. Within the constraints of the commission, the artist has done what he could and I am not criticising him for his work – Alan B. Herriot, by the way, not entirely anyway. But Victorian pastiche?

Ah well, you’re either a Wallace person or a Bruce and I’ve always been for Wallace – just glad he’s retained the heroic status in the city compared to the peedie king on his bronco.

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