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City Sculpture Projects 1972

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

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We revisit the ambitious, multi-city exhibition that brought sculpture into daily urban life.

Sculpture was talk of the town in Britain in the summer of 1972. It was being interrogated, debated, written about and photographed – and regularly appeared in regional and national newspapers, often with damning criticism and complaint. This was down to the City Sculpture Project, a hugely ambitious public sculpture scheme that supported the commissioning of large-scale works.

For a period of six months, between March and November 1972, sculptures were installed in eight cities in England and Wales. From Nicholas Monro’s over five-metre tall statue of King Kong in Birmingham, to Liliane Lijn’s revolving cone in Plymouth and William Turnbull’s six-part stainless steel sculpture Angle in Liverpool, these works all reimagined sculpture’s relation to the city and the urban viewer.

We return to this ambitious and fascinating sculpture project in the exhibition City Sculpture Projects 1972. Presenting sculptures and maquettes, some being remade by the artists especially for the exhibition, alongside photographs and archival material, much of the selected material has not been seen in public for over forty years.

Installation view of 'City Sculpture Projects 1972'. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.

Installing King Kong

At the heart of City Sculpture Projects 1972 is the only explicitly figurative sculpture in the project: Nicholas Monro’s extraordinary King Kong. This sculpture stands five-metres tall outside the Henry Moore Institute, looking over the city’s busiest thoroughfare.

Watch this video to see how we transported and installed such a large sculpture in the centre of Leeds.

This display marks the first time King Kong has been lent to an exhibition since its 1972 showing. In the galleries, Monro’s original maquette for the work is also on display.

This 1972 project marked an ambitious moment in the history of public sculpture in Britain. Large-scale works by living sculptors at the forefront of contemporaneous debates were placed in busy urban centres. The ambition was to showcase new sculpture that was disconnected from monuments and memorials. Importantly, it set out to stage dialogues between abstract sculpture and people living and working in urban environments outside London.

The original City Sculpture Project boldly unsettled established viewing habits and expectations, generating debate about contemporary sculpture’s relation to place. At the end of the six-month exhibition period each city had the option of buying the sculptures and having them on permanent display. None did and all the sculptures were relocated elsewhere – some were sold, and others destroyed.

City Sculpture Projects 1972 considers the ways in which this initiative took sculpture beyond the genre of the ‘open air’ urban park display, that had been popularised through exhibitions staged in the post-war decades in London’s Battersea and Holland Parks, and proposed a new model of art in the urban realm. This was a project that placed contemporary sculpture at street level, making it a part of the bustle of ordinary city life across Britain.

Willam Pye, model for 'Mirage' 1971. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.

William Pye, ‘Mirage’ 1972

Watch this original Super 8 footage of William Pye’s sculpture Mirage being installed for City Sculpture Projects in 1972.

Narrated by the artists himself, he talks about installing the sculpture outside of Cardiff Castle, and explains where the sculpture ended up.


Essays on Sculpture Issue 76 delves into the complicated story of a public sculpture experiment that brought art into daily urban life.

Over the course of a year, Research Curator Jon Wood tracked the narrative of each sculpture, speaking to the artists involved and their families, and combing the Arnolfini Archive in Bristol. What emerged was a story not only about sculpture, but also about cities and the people who live in them.

Alongside this text is a complete, illustrated list of the works made for City Sculpture Projects, as well as details of unrealised works and proposals.

Product details:

48 pages
230 x 170mm
ISBN: 978-1-905462-56-8

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Books on City Sculpture Projects 1972

We hold a large collection of catalogues and other relevant material in the Institute’s Sculpture Research Library.


Download bibliography
(PDF, 200kb)

Getting here

Henry Moore Institute

The Henry Moore Institute is currently closed for refurbishment until summer 2024.

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