What's That Thing?: British Public Art

The first AF/RCA Late, a free evening of intriguing cocktails and questionable art spanning the RCA in Kensington


07:00pm, Thursday, 23 March 2017


11:00pm, Thursday, 23 March 2017


Thursday 23 March
Free (registration required)


Senior Common Room
Royal College of Art (entry from Jay Mews)
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU

This is a past event

In partnership with:


The first AF/RCA Late, “What’s That Thing?” in partnership with The Spectator magazine will bring together artists, critics and architects as we attempt to get to the bottom of bad, and brilliant, public art.

Works of art increasingly inhabit and too often wreck the British public realm. Whether grand public commissions, street graffiti or performed acts in civic space, public art is playing a prominent and contested role in city-making. At best this work is popular, beautiful and compelling. At worst it is garish urban bling; costly and loathed.

Popular activist campaigns have admonished monuments to flawed heroes of yesteryear but past practices of public art-making seem inescapably more successful in creating powerful civic moments albeit with unsavoury subjects than today's culture can muster. Where has public art making gone wrong? What themes should (and shouldn't) public commissions explore and how important is the question of who foots the bill? 

The event will span across multiple floors of the Royal College of Art with immersive performances and robust debates taking place concurrently exploring the politics, practice and purpose of pubic art. At the climax of the evening, Spectator critic and former director of the Design Museum Stephen Bayley will announce the winner of the Spectator’s annual award for bad public art followed by a party in the infamous Art Bar.

Full line up to be announced. Tickets are free but registration is essential for access to RCA.


Stephen Bayley

The founding director of The Design Museum and a regular contributor to The Spectator on architecture and design


Tamsin Dillon

Director of Art on the Underground, member of the commissioning group for the Fourth Plinth and co-curator of the public art programme at King’s Cross

 Nick Drake

Poet, screenwriter and playwright who collaborated with United Visual Artists on Message from the Unseen World, a memorial to Alan Turing recently installed in Paddington Central

Alex Lifschutz

Director of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, architects of The Illuminated River, a project to light every Thames-crossing in central London


Robin Greenwood

Sculptor, former director of the Poussin Gallery and editor of www.abcrit.org

 Sean Griffiths

Professor of Architecture at the University of Westminster and a former director of FAT Architecture. Sean’s practice continues to straddle the worlds of art and architecture

 Rebecca Heald

Co-curator of the public art programme at King’s Cross and tutor on the RCA’s Curatorial Practice course


Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Arts editor at The Spectator


Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann

Associate lecturer at the University of Plymouth researching relations between Left-wing politics and mural production in London between 1975 and the dissolution of the Greater London Council in 1986


Stephen Witherford

Director of the Stirling Prize-winning Witherford Watson Mann Architects who have recently collaborated with the Roger Hiorns on a major public art commission in Bristol

Vivien Lovell

Director of Modus Operandi Art Consultants