Wednesday, 30 September 2015 by Sarah Butler
To herald the start of the new academic year, University of Leeds Vice Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands reflects on his favourite public artwork.
Image: William Chattaway, The Spirit of Enterprise/Hermes, 1958, bronze, image © University of Leeds
William Chattaway's twenty foot bronze of Hermes is positioned high on the east wall of the Roger Stevens building above a large reflecting pool with fountains. It sits well with Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's modernist interpretation of what a University should look like; and it is the best example on campus of how public art can change and adapt to new settings and new audiences, creating fresh dialogues with its environment.
The back story appeals to me. Chattaway's work was originally commissioned by the Midland Bank for their London headquarters, we think in the late 1950s. Chattaway called it Hermes but the bank suggested that the work should be renamed the Spirit of Enterprise because the Greek god Hermes "had a number of roles, including that of the guardian of less desirable characters". More recent events suggest that the bank was right to be concerned about such malign influences!
Stanley Burton, a long-time supporter of the University and friend of the artist, made the inspired decision to rescue Hermes when the Midland building was sold to developers. I imagine that Hermes - the protector and patron of herdsmen, thieves, oratory and wit, literature and poetry, athletics and sports, invention and trade, roads, boundaries and travellers - is happy in his new setting. He is a relatively young Olympian god concerned with transitions and he has the ability to move quickly and freely across boundaries. Leaving thieves to one side, I am certain that he is much happier in our University than he ever was at a bank.
The University is committed to public art and the new campus art map makes the campus tour easy and enjoyable. Public Art will also feature on the new University of Leeds website map, which goes live on 12 October. As you follow the trail, visit the website or simply go about your normal business, keep an eye out for Hermes and rejoice in the fact that he is happy here, inspiring many aspects of University life, not least our commitment to food security, culture, sport, transport and enterprise.
The Public Art Project is supported by a full programme of events. Highlights coming up include a talk on Chattaway's 'Hermes' on 14 October. To see the programme in full, follow this link: http://bit.ly/1CdAdW3