Robert Brindley

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Weebles, South Shields

Since 1999, 22 life-size bronze statues have stood beside Little Haven Beach at South Shields, overlooking the harbour and the Tyne piers. With their large round bases, these strange figures resemble children's wobbling toys. Like many public sculptures, they have been given a local nickname. Tynesiders call them the "Weebles", after the popular toy of the 1970s (slogan: "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down"). The first thing many people do on seeing them is to push them to see if they do wobble. At a quarter of a tonne each, they cannot be budged.

The official title of the work, by the Spanish artist Juan Munoz (1953-2001), is 'Conversation Piece', a play on the 18th-century genre of painting featuring an informal social gathering, such as a card game, tea party or musical recital. Munoz's figures, in small scattered groups, seem to be conversing with each other. They also form a topic of conversation to passing walkers, who might ask each other, "What do you think they are talking about?"


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