Striking new sculpture installed outside Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government

Striking new sculpture installed outside Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government

A striking new sculpture in the form of a bright magenta fountain pen balancing strikingly on the single point of its nib has been installed outside the Blavatnik School of Government.

The sculpture by Sir Michael Craig-Martin, unveiled in a ceremony in late September, stands 5 meters tall above the Walton Street pavement. It was made from a solid steel plate in the artist’s workshop and powder-coated in bright pink polyester to protect it from the elements.

The fountain pen alludes to the university’s centuries-long tradition of teaching and learning; the sculpture was commissioned by the Blavatnik School to provide a striking piece of public artwork to mark the entry to the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter.

The modern, bold aesthetic is appropriate given its location next to the equally contemporary school building. Its connotations of learning and the written word echo serve to emphasise the cultural identity of Jericho, whose history has been so heavily shaped by the University Press and the Radcliffe Infirmary, which was influential in the progress of medical learning.

Striking new sculpture installed outside the Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government
The new sculpture is across the road from Oxford University Press

The Blavatnik School of Government is one of the newest and most vibrant departments at the University of Oxford, with a mission to inspire and support better government and public policy globally.

It is a school of public policy founded in 2010 following a £75 million donation from Ukraine-born businessman Leonard Blavatnik, supported by £26 million from the University of Oxford.

When planning approval was granted for the “Herzog and de Meuron” designed building inspired by the “openness, communication and transparency in parliamentary spaces”, one of the conditions was that the school would commission a piece of freely accessible public art.

The artist - Michael Craig-Martin - was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1941 and has lived and worked in Britain since 1966. He is well known to have been an influential teacher at Goldsmiths College, London, and over the past forty-two years, he has had numerous exhibitions and installations in galleries and museums across the world.

His best-known work is perhaps An oak tree (1973), comprising a glass of water on a shelf and a text written by him asserting that the glass of water is, in fact, an oak tree. He is also known for his intensely coloured paintings, installations, and commissions, including a mural at the Children’s Hospital at John Radcliffe Hospital.

Commenting about the work, Michael, said “The image I proposed for Oxford was that of a fountain pen. The image can be seen as a reference to serious study and learning, particularly to the signing of important documents, an age-old formality that connects, like Oxford itself, the past and the present, and which is recognised globally.”

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