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Phone Boxes For Sale! Interested Superman?

28 May 2012

As part of BT Artbox and Childline's 25th year, Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, speaks to London Calling.

Telephone boxes may be becoming increasingly obsolete on the London landscape, but in the run-up to this summer, the iconic metal crates will be making something of a colourful comeback to celebrate 75 years of service.
 
It’s all part of a partnership between BT and Childline, branded as ArtBox. The initiative grants top artists, fashion stylists and graphic designers the chance to reinvent the traditional Gilbert Scott Kiosk with a fresh and exciting makeover. The creations will go on public display around London, before being auctioned off in support of Childine, which itself is celebrating a significant milestone...
 
“BT has been a supporter of Childline since its creation some 25 years ago,” begins Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery and avid patron of BT ArtBox. “That’s why they want to use this opportunity to invite artists to create expressive and innovative designs for their telephone boxes.
 
“The art will be displayed throughout the centre of London for between two and three months. The idea is to have concentration in spots like Trafalgar Square or other places in the centre of the capital, giving the public the chance to enjoy the creativity of national and local artists.”
 
So how did the National Portrait Gallery become involved?
 
“It’s a fantastic project for such a worthy cause, a charity that everyone knows, but one that still needs the utmost support. And we have a very close relationship with BT already – indeed, we’re working on an existing project with them for this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, called The National Portrait Gallery and BT Road to 2012.
 
“That means, for the past three years, we’ve created outstanding photographic portraits of some of those involved in the Games, whether they’re sportspeople, athletes, trainers – essentially anyone with a competitive part to play. And we’ll have a culminating display alongside the Games. So we’ve been working with BT as a supporter in that.”
 
So will the ArtBoxes ever make it past the doors of the National Portrait Gallery?! “Sadly, not! But we’ve a huge imprint on what they are and what they aim to achieve.
 
“Right after they spend time on the London streets, they’ll go for charitable auction. I was drafted in as a Patron and adviser more because of the contacts with artists and designers. Obviously I’ve been more than happy to help out in that aspect.
 
“We’ve already been through the vetting process with artists. The current phase is all about winnowing down the numbers – we are to decide whether it’s 100 or 150 boxes. BT will have to work with the artist to realise the creation of these boxes. It’s so exciting to see what they’ll produce and ultimately put out there.”
 
Companies and individuals can sponsor a box either by purchasing one of their own and emblazoning their brand on it, or by commissioning a bespoke design that they will later have first dibs on at the charity auction. But Sandy is keen to reiterate the importance of creative freedom for the artists.
 
“From my experience, when artists are deep in preparation mode for their new exhibition - and have many other commitments running alongside – it can be difficult to just break off and get creative, particularly with a telephone box! That’s one side of it. The other side is that they care as much as we all do about Childline - they care about charities, and artists are good for supporting charitable causes because they’re delighted to get their heads out of the studios, for this especially. And they know, more than anyone, that in order for the box to stand out, it needs to be about surprise and impact if it’s to get any attention on the streets.”
 
But who will bid for these boxes at the auction? “Well they’re not replicas,” he says, “and they’re not the full weight, which makes them quite a bit more manageable. They’re so iconic, I can quite imagine maybe individuals or companies who would love to have one in their living rooms or their foyers or at the bottom of the garden. People will enjoy putting them in unusual places.”
 
So what’s next in the National Portrait Gallery calendar?
 
“We’re just in the second stage of the Lucian Freud portrait exhibition which I’m delighted to report is doing very well. We’ve also a got an exhibition coming up for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, called the The Queen: Art and Image, and that runs from the second half of May through the summer. And when we get to July, we’ll open the display for The Road To 2012 - we’ve got three new photographers featured as part of that third-year exhibition. It’s a busy couple of months to look forward to.”
 

For more information about BT ArtBox head to their website.
 

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