The Canary Wharf Estate prides itself on the large numbers of pieces of public art that it has acquired over approximately three decades of its existence. The public art can be seen in the squares, beside the roads and paths, in the parks of the estate as well as inside some of the public areas, like shopping malls. There are over 60 pieces of art which are in many formats – three-dimensional steel, stone and glass as well as mosaics and paintings. To describe a ‘typical’ piece of public art would be just impossible because of the variety. One of the many striking works has been selected from a most diverse collection.
The estate is made up of ’squares’, some of them very large and others more intimate. One of the squares is called Columbus Courtyard – named to remember one of the 15th-century Italian explorers who completed four successful voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. Several locations on the Estate have been named after other famous explorers. This square is towards the western end, on the north side of West India Avenue.
Columbus Courtyard is surrounded by large modern office blocks, clad in stone. Its main feature is a striking piece of public art titled ‘Centurione I’. The large bronze, nine feet (2.7 m) high, was made in 1987, a few years before most of the Estate was completed, showing a huge incomplete head that you might expect to see on an ancient site in Italy today. It is a striking piece – one of three works by Igor Mitoraj to be seen at Canary Wharf. It represents an incomplete mask, suggesting the surviving part of an enormous whole. The picture above was taken a few years ago and since then the bronze has been coated, rendering the work of art slightly darker in colour and with a slight gloss. The coating probably protects the bronze but it does not have the same effect as when it was in its original state.
Igor Mitoraj (1944-2014) was born in East Germany of Polish-French parents and studied classical painting in Krakow before moving to Paris in 1968. He later travelled in South America. His enigmatic and monumental sculptures combine the surreal with the antiquity of Greece and Rome.