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A Statue in the U.K. Had to Be Moved Because It Was Too Popular

Visitors flocked to see ‘Seated Figure’ by the artist Sean Henry—and damaged the surrounding landscape of the North York Moors in the process

Moving on (Courtesy of YSP/© Jonty Wilde)
smithsonian.com

In 2017, a towering statue of an anonymous man with disheveled gray hair and a furrowed brow was installed on England’s North York Moors. Known simply as “Seated Figure,” the nearly ten-f00t work depicts a man sitting on a stool, clutching a briefcase and frowning over the rolling hills below.

Visitors flocked to see the dramatic artwork, driven in part, perhaps, by word that “Seated Figure” bore a keen resemblance to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The statue proved so popular that the surrounding landscape began to erode. Finally, as Maya Wolfe-Robinson reports for the Guardian, officials concluded that “Seated Figure” would just have to sit somewhere else.

The work was created by Sean Henry, a ceramic sculpture artist whose striking figures have appeared around the world—from a crumpled older man in Stockholm, to a reflective young man in Michigan, to a woman in motion in Oslo, her stride infused with purpose. Henry’s statues could easily be mistaken for real people were they not manipulated to seem either much smaller or much larger than life-size. “The theme of Henry’s sculpture,” according to artnet, “is the tension between the making and staging of figures that seem to belong to the real world, and the degree to which they echo our experiences and sympathies.”

When preparing “Seated Figure” for the North York Moors, Henry carefully considered where the piece should be installed, and how it should fit in with the grasses and heathers that would surround it.

“I didn’t want it to stand out,” he told Jane McGowan of Essential Surrey in 2017. “I wanted it almost to do the very opposite: to hide itself; to be a subdued presence. People can go and find him.”

Find him they did. The statue was supposed to remain on the moors for five years, but just two years after its arrival, the influx of people who came to see “Seated Figure” had started to damage the landscape. According to Wolfe-Robinson, visitors had been leaving litter in the natural environment and parking their cars on a nearby strip of land.

In April, the North York Moors National Park Authority, which looks after the area, said that relocating the statue would allow the landscape to recover. “Its overwhelming popularity was leading to moorland erosion, litter and parking issues, which caused concern for local landowners,” a spokesperson explained, per the Telegraph.

Officials decided to move “Seated Figure” to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a 500-acre, open-air gallery that is home to more than 80 sculptures and installations by the likes of Damien Hirst and Ai Weiwei. The park is a well-frequented attraction, and representatives say they are prepared to handle high volumes of visitors that might wish to view Henry’s statue in its new environment.

“At YSP, we welcome around 500,000 visitors each year,” explains Clare Lilley, director of programs at the park. “We are used to caring for sculpture within the landscape and the challenges of significant visitor numbers. We hope that many more people will be able to see the sculpture in its new location.”

In keeping with Henry’s wish that people “go and find” the statue, the gallery has installed “Seated Figure” at one of the highest points of the park—a quiet area, overlooking a valley. And while Henry said in April that he was “sad” to see the statue leave the North York Moors, he also noted that he was “excited about the new installation.”

"It is important,” he said, “to let the moorland recover."

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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