At the heart of Canary Wharf

At the heart of Canary Wharf

Anna Tomlinson explores the public art collection in Canary Wharf.

After endlessly hearing about Canary Wharf from my brilliant co-editor doing a theatre internship there, I decided to go and explore the neighbourhood. Ages away from our home at UCL in Bloomsbury, it’s not an area often visited by students. However, especially as an art history student I was happily surprised by the financial centre. Amid the skyscrapers adorned with the names of the world’s biggest banks, the countless premium coffee shops and restaurants, and the perfectly-manicured lawns, I was surprised by the amount of art publically showcased in the district. It made the area welcoming, rather than cold.

With the exhibition showcase, Art on the Estate, Canary Wharf is home to one of the UK’s largest collections of public art, as most of the land and buildings in Canary Wharf are privately owned by the Canary Wharf Group. These artworks are placed in the estate’s squares and alongside its streets, and are also housed in the lobbies of some of the companies working based in the district.

The artworks consist primarily of sculptures, readily visible to the passer-by. And in an area where it may have seemed unexpected, it creates a cultural fabric that gives the area character. It also connects this part of the city, seemingly far away from the traditions of art and literature in Bloomsbury, to the cultural centres of London.

The monuments, installations, and even promenade railings, are supporting contemporary artists, and many of the sculptures are moving and emotional. Jon Buck’s sculpture Returning to Embrace, or Lynn Chadwick’s Couple on a Seat, point to the beauty in human connections, while Emma Biggs’ Pattern for Democracy is a mosaic, draws on the harmony created by the embrace of diversity.

While the art on the Canary Wharf estate doesn’t seem very much publicised, it’s quite fun to explore on a Sunday afternoon stroll. It’s a connection to a part of the city that is relatively distant from the everyday existence of student-life, and it’s a treasure-hunt finding the different works. It’s a corporate collection that arguably adds cultural capital to one of our city’s financial centres.


Featured Image: Canary Wharf, view east from Cabot Square. Photo by David Iliff. 

Anna Tomlinson