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Over Easy

Location: Stockton-on-Tees, Teeside, UK

Artist: Richard Wilson


Over Easy is a rotating sculpture by Richard Wilson set into the curved glass façade of the Arc, the new performing arts centre in the centre of Stockton-on-Tees which opened in January 1999. The sculpture is an 8 metre diameter disc, part glazed and part rendered in rich yellow and including a length of steel brise soleil, so that it appears to be part of the main exterior wall of the building. The disc moves almost indiscernibly, alternately clockwise and anti-clockwise, at approximately the speed of a clock’s minute hand, so that the glazed and rendered sections of the disc are gradually dislocated from their counterparts in the static façade. Over Easy adds to the strong visual identity of the Arc and references the performing arts activities taking place within.


Richard Wilson’s involvement with the Arc began in Autumn 1996, after architects RHWL had come up with designs for the new arts centre. Earlier the same year, David Metcalfe of David Metcalfe Associates (DMA) had been appointed to write the brief for a series of celebratory events for the opening of the building. He came up with a proposal for 4 or 5 site specific commissions including a performance, and temporary and permanent public art works, with a long list of artists, among them Richard Wilson. DMA’s proposal formed part of a submission to the Arts Council of England for development funding for the new building from the National Lottery Capital Programme. The budget for the commissions was £350,000, within a total budget for the building of £8.5m.

Richard Wilson is known for his temporary installation works, but DMA had worked with him in the past and knew he might be interested in a major permanent commission. He was approached and this proved to be the case. After initial discussions, DMA came up with an artist’s brief to develop a design concept for a work inside, in front of or on the roof of the building which would be a unique ‘flag’ for the arts centre and which would signal its performing arts emphasis. In September 1996, a first meeting was held between the architects, the Arts Centre Director, David Metcalfe and Richard Wilson at which the artist discussed his initial ideas. That meeting confirmed an interest from all parties in working together and he was commissioned by the Arc to develop a proposal based on the models and plans for the building available at the time and was paid a design fee. The total budget for the project at this point was £140,000.

The Artist’s Proposal

Two months later the same group met to discuss the artist’s preliminary designs. He had aimed for a work which was memorable and simple, which pierced through the building and made it move, disrupting the main façade. His concept was to work in parallel with the architects rather than integrating his activity with their designs. The proposal was greeted with unanimous enthusiasm, including from the architects themselves given that the work would interfere with the architecture. The artist made a presentation of his proposal to the Board of the Arc in December 1996 and it was approved, subject to budget and practicability. His ability to describe his work and its aesthetics in straightforward terms without compromising his ideas was a key factor in achieving the Board’s support. During this period, a project manager for the construction of the building itself was appointed, and David Metcalfe was engaged by Arc as project manager for the art commissions. He worked alongside the artist throughout the commission, sitting on the building design team, liaising between the artist and other professionals, and managing the project from day to day.

Liability Issues

The architects were clear that the artist must accept legal liability for Over Easy and the section of the façade it occupied. They also suggested that he should take on his own team of professional advisers, and said that he would be liable for satisfactory design, construction and installation of the piece and its ongoing functioning and maintenance. The allocation of legal liability remained a recurrent and problematic theme throughout the whole commission. A complex web of contractual and sub contractual relationships was built up between the Arc and the professional teams working on the building and art projects, but no-one was in the position of overall project manager for the building and the art, to push the whole scheme along according to schedule and to take an overview. The contractual arrangements might have been simplified had the artist been engaged at a much earlier stage.

Design Development

In early 1997, Richard Wilson, through Matt’s Gallery which represented him at the time, engaged structural engineers Price and Myers with whom he had worked in the past. They assessed his proposal as feasible, but wanted expert advice on the drive mechanism, power and bearings. Initial research soon indicated that a simple mechanical engineering solution was required to meet the limited budget. Mechanical engineers W S Atkins were therefore engaged onto the artist’s team and commissioned to prepare a feasibility study covering all aspects of the practical operation, maintenance and full costings for Over Easy. The study and budget were approved by the Board in June 1997.

The building design team looked at the scheduling of the whole project and agreed that Over Easy should be installed by the contractor for the building’s curtain wall glazing. An option was included in the tender documents for this contract for bidders to take on the construction as well as installation of the work. Commercial Systems International (CSI) submitted the cheapest tender and, although lacking directly comparable experience, was enthusiastic about taking on both construction and installation.

Richard Wilson was re-contracted by Arc to oversee the detailed design phase. He and Matt’s Gallery had recently parted company and he was now acting in an individual capacity. David Metcalfe was insistent that an artist should not be expected personally to take on the liability for a major engineering work such as Over Easy. However, redrafting of the contract was never completed and the artist continued to act as the client for Price and Myers and W S Atkins, although in practice Arc began to pay these consultants directly. The complicated issues of liability and the need for sub contractors giving advice and services to provide Deeds of Collateral Warranty covering their liability were never fully resolved.


The artist’s project team worked in consultation with CSI and the architects to produce final designs. These required the bending of the outer steel rings and the metal frame for the moving disk to very precise tolerances. CSI finally contracted the Angle Ring Company to produce the rings in sections by mechanical methods, to be subsequently finished by CSI, but could not guarantee the tolerances required. In the light of this, CSI presented a revised price which was well above the budget available, in order to cover higher fabrication costs and what they perceived as a raised level of risk, and entered into determined negotiations with the project team. In June 1998 a long and difficult meeting was held with CSI, the project team, John Laing Construction (construction management contractors for the building), and the building project manager, at which details of liability, deadlines and cost were thrashed out. To allay CSI’s anxieties over liability, the project team agreed to check and sign off the work at various stages of the process (incurring extra cost in attendance fees) in return for a guaranteed price from CSI. The notes from this meeting formed part of CSI’s contract.


Due to delays in fabrication, the installation date slipped a few weeks and arrangements including road closures, plant hire and attendance of the professional teams were set in place for September 1998. The ring sections were loaded at CSI in Hull for transport to Teesside but at the last minute CSI would not release the lorry until the work had been finally signed off and responsibility for it taken by the client, Arc. Stalemate ensued over a tense weekend, until CSI finally relented after intercessions from Richard Wilson and David Metcalfe.

The rings took three days to winch and fix into place in the façade of the Arc after which the disc was glazed and clad to match the surrounding wall. The revolving disk proved to weigh more than the engineers expected because a heavier gauge wood had been used in its cladding. As a result, the motor driving the moving ring burned out, and the problem was resolved by adjusting the speed at which the disk revolves. Apart from this, it fitted and worked perfectly. The final stages of installation were to insert the weatherproof seals and install a perspex screen to protect the public where the turning disk is accessible inside the building. W S Atkins produced a maintenance manual for the piece.

Budget Issues

From the original proposal for 4 to 5 art commissions, only three were realised, of which Over Easy was by far the largest. As the project was unique, engineering and fabrication solutions were invented as it progressed, and it was impossible to set an accurate budget at the outset. From an original notional budget of £140,000, the cost rose to a final total of £205,000 including fees for the artist and engineers, and all construction fabrication and installation costs. The budget was kept under close observation throughout the project, and economy was one of the defining factors in identifying engineering solutions for the piece. The Board of Arc was kept regularly informed of the budget as it become firmer, but the final cost was only known at a late stage when the contract for fabrication and installation had been resolved, three months before final delivery.

DMA was responsible for additional fundraising for the commissions programme and was successful in achieving the matching funds required by the original budget. However the unavoidably late determination of the final budget for Over Easy did not allow sufficient time for meaningful fundraising efforts to meet the new total, and in the end, the commission costs exceeded the funds available. Richard Wilson played an active role in some of the fundraising efforts by following up his own contacts, and by giving a presentation to councillors on the Stockton City Challenge panel, which secured additional funding.

In innovative public art projects where new solutions need to be created, uncertainty over the final budget will always be an issue, and can only be tackled by planning for a significant pause in the process whilst additional funds are raised or by including a generous contingency sum in the original budget.

© Copyright Joanna Morland 2000