Gary Webb, Squeaky Clean, Charlton Park Greenwich, London, 2012

Wishing for that moment again, when “after generations of neglect, the public playground is suddenly in the midst of a renascence as designers, sculptors, painters and architects strive to create a new world of color, texture and form” (Jay Jacobs, 1967, as quoted in Trainor) I’ve been pleased, just over the last year or so, to see an increasing number of artists involved in playground design.  Enough for me to declare a mini-trend:  of quirky hiccups here and there startling the dull steady drone of generic playground installations.  Cause for hope!

When Frieze Projects East commissioned six new public art projects for the Olympic Host Boroughs in East London, the only permanent installation among them was, wisely, a combination of art and play.

Gary Webb’s ‘Squeaky Clean’ combines his characteristic jelly-bean like colors and shapes (particularly effective against the gray London sky, don’t you think?) with frames and nets, making them perches for contemplation as well as climbing.  I think young children would find the reflective resin shapes particularly attractive to touch and experience.

The comic sensibility of Webb’s artwork makes it well-suited for the playground.   I keep a running list in my head of other artists-I-would-like-to-see-design-playgrounds…which I’ll try to make a blog category at some point, but of course if you’re a fabulously wealthy playground collector in need of curation advice do get in touch.

If we let more artists make playgrounds, will there be some that don’t work out, that the community doesn’t accept or the children won’t play on?  Sure.  But that happens with manufactured playgrounds already, more than most communities are willing to acknowledge.  Involving an artist in your project might seem like a risk, but the upside is the creation of a truly memorable space whose value to the community goes far beyond just physical play.

[all photos from Frieze Projects East]

4 Responses to “Gary Webb, Squeaky Clean, Charlton Park Greenwich, London, 2012”

  1. Adrianna said:

    How much would it cost to get this sculpture, if we were to make another one?

    May 08, 2015 at 8:37 am

  2. Paige Johnson said:

    Thanks for the comment, Melanie. But interacting with an artwork is also a special experience for a child, and it’s great for that to come out of the museum and onto the playground. Every playground shouldn’t be like this Gary Webb installation, but there’s definitely room in the playground tent for it! ‘Squeaky Clean’ draws a different set of thoughts, thinkers, and supporters into the space for play, broadening the conversation, which is something I always support here at Playscapes.

    July 29, 2014 at 10:10 am

  3. Melanie Guy said:

    On the whole these artist’s playgrounds are really imaginative and experimental – with a big BUT. They are a boost to the artist’s imagination and ego – not to the children’s.
    Children need the inspiration of materials that they can explore and understand – their world is tactile and direct. A manufactured material, especially metal, is unsympathetic and not pleasantly tactile and does not offer harmony in a playground – but great as a visual statement.
    If it is built for a child, a play area offers materials that are accessible to their experience, preferably natural, and will mature and change in time and use. No less important is it to provide enough suggestion in the structure of the equipment so that narratives can be invented by the protagonists, adding value to the physical challenges.

    July 29, 2014 at 3:13 am

  4. Tim Gill said:

    It's certainly visually striking, but I'm doubtful it makes a much better play offer than a lot of conventional KFC play areas. Still, good to see some experimentation and a tangible community legacy from this funding.

    September 06, 2012 at 11:08 am

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