Mary Wollstonecraft Memorial, Newington Green

A silvery bronze sculpture of pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) by Maggi Hambling has been unveiled on Newington Green in north London. Revolutionary thinker Wollstonecraft lived nearby. The  £143,000 cost, which took ten years to collect, 404 Not Found was raised by public subscription, some of which donors may now be wishing they

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had more productively spent their cash on drugs from dealers trading nearby. Hambling is the author of the equally tacky piece in Covent Garden dedicated to Oscar Wilde, and also that corrugated flotsam, a scallop shell apparently, on the beach at Aldeburgh to Benjamin Britten.

This one is another publicity seeking effort. How long will it take before those who make these decisions realise Hambling is no sculptor? It is hard to second guess the thinking of those who selected her for this commission Now let’s rehearse the points one by one … Yes, that’s right, all of the wrong reasons for choosing any artist. What we have is a nude woman who closely resembles one of those heroic athletes from the Soviet era. It is insulting to women to characterise them as a sideboard sports trophy. From the back it looks like a half-chewed caramel. Squirting from the top the figure is akin to the memorial of Yuri Gagarin which used to stand in the centre of Moscow, where the tiny stylised figure is launched from the end of a great arc of shiny metal – in that instance a piece of magnificent kitsch. This work isn’t just bad it’s repellent, the commemorated person deserving of so much better. Where are the anarchist statue topplers when you need them? (By the way, we didn’t really mean that.) Whatever your views of Colston as a good or bad individual his statue was a decent piece of sculpture and perhaps even the best work by the artist who made it. We prefer to think of Wollstonecraft as the original thinker presented in the Tate’s agreeable portrait of her, one of John Opie’s more memorable character studies.

The other entry considered for the commission was by Martin Jennings.

Local resident, architect Matthew Lloyd, comments:

This statue by Hambling is so very sad. Even since its unveiling it has been slated, and, yes, by the Guardian too. The Spectator has just now written about it, rather politely I thought, although in clear opposition to it.

Firstly it is ugly and badly made. The base looks like a


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budget graveyard memorial – and why is it not in the same material as the upper part? Then there is the middle silver blob and then this extraordinary machete of a naked woman on top. These physical and material mistakes are relatively easy to note when speaking from a design background.

What I find most regrettable is what ordinary people around here will think and say. And what are local kids – often from poor backgrounds (the very run down/notorious Shakespeare estate is next door) – supposed to make of this sculpture? Will they be able to relate it to their history lessons in any way at all? Will they not be utterly confused by its frank sexuality – instead of seeing it as a worthwhile piece of social/historical commentary? This piece will just add to the constantly confused messaging that, say, schoolgirls (given that this concerns a brave, original and radical historical figure) now have to deal with every day.

Those of us who live locally now have to put up with this object for the rest of our lives. Maggie Hambling and her commissioners will no doubt be pleased by the furore it has already caused. But this tells us more about them than it considers any response by locals. This is an over-clever, elite public installation that is unskilled and a wasted opportunity.