14 May 2018

‘Do not applaud,
just throw money’

‘The Monument to the Unknown Artist’ … seen on Sumner Street near the Tate Modern (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

As I walk from Liverpool Street Station to the USPG offices in Southwark, my eye is often caught by the ‘Monument to the Unknown Artist,’ a sculpture on Sumner Street just behind the Tate Modern on Bankside, in front of the Blue Fin building, near the Neo buildings.

We have had summers in Ireland that were filled with stories of ‘moving statues.’ But on a warm sunny day in London last week I was told that this too is a moving statue.

The statue stands on a 6 ft plinth with a Latin inscription in capital letters: Non plaudite modo pecuniam jacite, which translates: ‘Do not applaud, just throw money.’

The piece was installed by an art collective called Greyworld, a collective of artists who have been creating intriguing urban art since the mid-1990s. Their other projects include the Lake District’s ‘Clockwork Forest’ (2011) and Trafalgar Sun (2012).

‘The Monument to the Unknown Artist’ often causes alarm because it is capable of moving.

The original inscription was going to be: Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur, ‘Whatever is said in Latin sounds profound.’

When the statue was unveiled in 2007, a camera was linked to the sculpture, so it could observe and mimic the movements of passers-by. I have not seen it function like this, but some people say they have seen in bend and move, and have even seen it dance.

At first glance the figure seems to be a simple bronze statue standing on a stone plinth. However, the mischievous figure is said to observe the people passing by below and to mimic their movements as they pose before him – although I did not notice the statue move in the summer sunshine in London last week as I walked back from Great Suffolk Street to the Millennium Bridge and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and on to Liverpool Street station.

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