Belfast’s Magic Jug: “a silly, frivolous piece of public art”

Moochin noted the start of the campaign against the proposed “Magic Jug” sculpture in Belfast’s Fountain Street .  Now there’s an open letter to the Department for Social Development, signed by a number of artists, architects and others, setting out their concerns under four headings: Procurement, Location, The Wider Plan and Sustainability.

And here’s an Irish Times report from the 8th May about the campaign

“Yes, I think the Magic Jug is rubbish – a silly, frivolous piece of public art,” says campaign organiser Daniel Jewesbury. “But my own aesthetic response is by the by. The real problem is the commissioning process. Why were no artists involved in the commissioning of this piece? How was it advertised? What were the criteria? We need more transparency in how public money is spent. We don’t want to be just given public art and told why it’s good for us.”

Jewesbury is concerned that government agencies with no remit for the arts, such as the North’s Roads Service and Department of the Environment, are taking a lead in the commissioning of public art. “The Magic Jug is part of the Belfast ‘Streets Ahead’ regeneration project – so you’ve got a piece of public art that basically comes out of a road re-surfacing scheme.” The protest group is also concerned about the environmental costs of transporting a five-metre chunk of black Shanxi granite from China to Belfast.

At a time when €1.3 million has been cut from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s budget, Jewesbury is particularly disturbed that so many public art commissions go to artists from outside the North. “The last thing we want is an artist from London explaining us to ourselves according to some spurious local history agenda.”

But Andrew Irvine, Belfast’s city centre manager, insists that the commissioning process for the Magic Jug was perfectly open and transparent, and that people on the streets are keen on the new addition. “Not only are we doing this dressing exercise and giving ourselves something that looks very attractive, actually it has a physical purpose of connecting areas, encouraging people to move around the retail circuit.”


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  • Cynic

    Come on Alex. First cut!

  • Cynic

    “The last thing we want is an artist from London explaining us to ourselves .”

    Aye….keep all ’em foreigners out …. but wait a minute….isnt Jewsbury a Londoner who worked in Dublin and has only been up her in de Nurth for 4 years. Is this a wind up?

    “according to some spurious local history agenda”

    Aye …. we have enough of those ourselves

  • Clanky

    Why should art not be silly and frivolous.

    In a country were to many people take too many things far to seriously maybe a little silliness and frivolity is not such a bad idea.

  • joeCanuck

    Agree. Some “art critics” take themselves too seriously.

  • Pete you beat me to it 🙂

    I spoke with someone from the arts council ( on the understanding of anonymity) and was informed that not only was the commission re advertised due to the small initial response but that my statement that a fountain was part of the commissioning guide was incorrect – it had merely been a suggestion. Furthermore i was told that the whole process (at the time) was procedurally tight (they had followed them to the letter). I was told that we were barking up the wrong tree if we were to follow that as a possible weak link to try to reverse the award of the commission.

  • If you want silly and frivolous then the jug should be replaced with a 5m can of harp topped off with 20 regal emitting a spume of Sukie orange every ten mins.

  • To be fair to Dan he has been shuttling between Dublin and Belfast for a few years but has been here (AFAIK) for around 12 or 13 years. He is also an internationally exhibited artist as well as being a commentator on contemporary art and curator. .

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Hopefully the Arts Council will be the first quango to get abolished. Its a luxury in time of economic downturn which cant actually withstand the scrutiny when jobs are being lost and lives thrown into chaos as a result.
    Does it actually have a point?
    Besides getting public money and paying it out to so called artists…do we actually have a local artist who could drwaw something besides the dole?
    and getting photographed with Belfasts great and good for inclusion in the next issue of the Ulster Tatler.

  • Framer

    Couldn’t be worse than that anti-people, sharp-edged steel structure in Arthur Square.

    Ugly and unpleasant.

  • ForkHandles

    They are going about this all the wrong way. To get the public behind the display they need to add another identical jug right beside the original. Everyone likes a pair of big jugs 🙂

  • P McCourt

    I agree, a nice big set of granite Jugs – with the slogan “UP THE BRA _ TITS OUT” engraved on it

  • Jane Jaffers

    Oh yes it could!

    Somehow the jug-designer has managed that seemingly impossible feat.

  • Pete Baker

    Sorry Moochin.

    Couldn’t wait 😉

  • Procrasnow

    anyone seen the art piece, at top of manor street (prod side) near peace line. adding a bird and fish to it still cannot hide the shape of a male organ as seen from the left side of the street.

    To me it is not art, it is down right disgusting.

  • joeCanuck

    Is the jug to be placed near Cantrell and Cochrane’s well? If so, a big pop bottle might be more appropriate.

  • Cynic

    Fair enough but I still think its ironic. I prefer to judge on skills and ability

  • southdown

    i just want to see a fountain in fountain street- there is historical context in that there was once a fountain there. The water below was once a good aquifer from which was bottled and supplied water across the world.

    As for public art can any one explain to me the art structure as one drives in from belfast past the big roundabout at cookstown?

  • Viv Gleason

    If this had been the 1st April I would have thought it was an April fool!!! Must be one of the ugliest things I have ever seen. And I’m not exactly a youngster!!

  • joeCanuck

    It’s all in the eye (mind) of the beholder. One person’s work of art is another person’s eyesore.
    To paraphrase: you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

  • smellybigoxteronye

    quite like the jug actually – better than that spirally piece of metal. When though are we going to get the red hand sculptures?!

  • Rory Carr

    “”..the jug should be replaced with a 5m can of harp topped off with 20 regal emitting a spume of Sukie orange every ten mins.”

    That’s a terrific concept, Moochin. Have you considered realising any such like concepts for the Turner Prize?

    “Moochin’s a shoe-in !” That would be my campaign slogan for your entry (the usual 20% agent’s fees would naturally apply.)

    This is the sort of competition you would be up against:

    so you can see why I have every confidence in your concept.

  • Rory……

    Much as i’d like to i can’t claim to be the originator of the idea though i have tweeked it a little. The facebook page has an artists impression though Heinekin was used instead of Harp perhaps as a statement of the homogenisation/globalisation of our alchoholic products.

    Clearly you don’t know the arts world as 20% is very cheap.

    I have my aspirations but they’ll take a wee while to realise but i’ll certainly bear your offer in mind( if you’ll be prepared to front any manufacturing and work costs 🙂

  • Critical Alien

    That original press release in full:

    29 March 2010
    ‘Bax of Fegs’ sculpture For Fountain Street Belfast

    Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie, today announced the commissioning of new public art, the ‘Bax of Fegs’, for Fountain Street in Belfast City Centre.

    The Bax, which will stand five and a half metres tall, is based on a packet of 20 Regal King Size from Centra, bought the time Smickers McGlinchey asked for 20 Lambert and Butler but they had none of them nor had they B&H. At that time McGlinchey had had a pint waiting for him just off Sandy Row, but his compatriots had since diverted to what is now called Fountain Street in order to drink a wee c/o round the side of the bakers.

    The Can of Harp, which is a symbol within the ancient Dypsomaniac culture of Ireland, will be made from polished aluminium with a silvery reflective appearance, and will appear to be leaking beer like water splashing the Bax but miraculously not affecting the Fegs within. That’s thanks to the cellophane. The £3.47 in small change at the top of the sculpture will be for the next Bax of ten, a dramatic accent and symbol of good fortune for the city and its bright future. In the evenings, dramatic lighting will throw enchanting shadows of the pre-teens, uninterested in going home to hear another parental argument, who will add their penmanship to the pristine surfaces of the Bax.

    Margaret Ritchie said: “This is a fascinating link between the rich history of old Belfast, the dynamic, attractive modern city centre that we are producing and the necessity for our departments to justify their budgets by spending every last penny allocated to them. Belfast city centre is well on its way to having a streetscape which compares with other regional capital cities across Europe. It may not compare favourably, but it will feature in comparisons. Public art plays a key role in that. Tourists are very attracted to public art for photo opportunities and public urination, be it on a little mermaid in Copenhagen or a Bax of Fegs in Belfast.

    “We must keep on embracing public art to help showcase our capital city to the rest of the world. Not only will it mean we have wee photos of stuff to put in our brochures, thereby tricking investors and citizens into hanging around, but it will connect the history of its past for future generations to come. I am confident that this new piece will become an integral part of a new Belfast like its predecessors, the ‘Bogling Gluebegger with a Stanley Knife’ in Arthur Square and the ‘Auld Doll with the Unfeasibly Deep Voice’ at the Lagan Weir.”

    The art sculpture is the final piece of the Belfast Streets Ahead regeneration project. It has been designed by the London-based sculptor Jizz Henceforth. ‘London-based’ as no one from Belfast could be found who was willing or able to create a symbol of good fortune for the city and its bright future.

  • The plinth before the Spirally thing (Onion rings) was installed was a far far better piece of public art arguably as it was appropriated by all and sundry before being ruined by the burnished metal monstrosity.
    Hopefully the red hand sculpture will never be commissioned. That is just an ill conceived idea with the proposer using the media to try to garner support (and now that the Odyssey is now in the hands of the receivers it would seem even less likely)

  • joeCanuck

    Shurely there’s misspelling there, Rory. Should it not be gauche instead of gouache?

  • smellybigoxteronye

    i preferred the old band-stand before the metal spirals actually.

    disagree that red hand is a bad idea. think it should be a reclaimed symbol and not necessarily placed at the Odyssey. Quite like the idea of several red hands at various locations in the form of friendly and non-aggressive gestures.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Moochin ,
    Can you please put this good news up in a new thread, if you haven’t already done so..
    A little good news