Forgotten floating head sculpture back on display after 33 years

A sculpture of a giant floating head which languished forgotten for decades has gone back on public display after it was rediscovered and restored.

Richard Groom created the 27-tonne concrete and steel artwork for the Glasgow Garden Festival, which took place in 1988.

After the event, it was left abandoned on the banks of the Clyde and was at risk of being destroyed until it was found and moved to Rothesay Dock East on the north bank of the river, where it was then largely forgotten.

However, following Groom’s death in 2019, the artist’s family and friends set out to track down the sculpture and restore and conserve it.

Floating Head sculpture
The sculpture will be on display in Glasgow (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The giant head, which was created with the help of out-of-work shipbuilders, has now been floated back up the river and will be moored in the Canting Basin near the Glasgow Science Centre until October 6, also featuring in Glasgow Doors Open Day in mid-September.

Andy Groom, the artist’s brother, said: “Myself and my family were so touched at Richard’s funeral where so many of his friends and colleagues commented on all of his work, especially the floating head.

“It became apparent very quickly we had to find it, fix it, float it. We couldn’t believe our luck when we found and met with Offshore Workboats, who had rescued it.

“We then tracked down and met Ian Henderson, the owner of the head, who has allowed us the opportunity to display the head again for the public to see.

“We’re really grateful to all of them, and everyone else, who has made it possible for us to have the sculpture restored and returned to the heart of Glasgow.”

The artwork has been conserved and partially restored by workers from Concrete Repairs Ltd, in a project led by Sculpture Placement Group (SPG) and Richard Groom’s estate.

The conservation work has been carried out in a way that means the head still shows the signs of ageing and how nature encroaches on man-made artefacts, so the moss which gradually grew on the sculpture remains in place.

After October 6 it is hoped that someone will come forward to give an appropriate longer-term home to the sculpture, which could also be displayed on dry land.

Floating Head sculpture
The sculpture lay forgotten for decades (Andrew Milligan/PA)

SPG co-director Michelle Emery-Barker said: “People have very fond memories of the Garden Festival, and a huge attachment to Glasgow’s heritage as a world centre of shipbuilding, so we’re really pleased to have the sculpture floating on the Clyde once again.

“It’s an astonishing story – an artwork that was nearly destroyed being rediscovered after decades, restored by the boatbuilders of today, and then towed back up the river and proudly put back on public display.

“We think it will really resonate with people, and hopefully be quite an attraction for Doors Open Day.”

A crowdfunding campaign run by SPG and the family raised £7,000, helping to cover the cost of the restoration, which was carried out by Concrete Repairs Ltd, while £13,000 came from donations and grants.

The head is 23ft (7m) long, 14ft (4.3m) high and 10ft 8in (3.25m) wide.

Gemma Wild, heritage outreach manager at Glasgow Heritage Trust, said: “Glasgow City Heritage Trust was delighted to be able to support this project via a heritage grant.

“The Garden Festival of 1988 holds a special place in the memories of many Glaswegians and marked a turning point in Glasgow’s transformation from industrial powerhouse to cultural centre.

“The refloating of Richard Groom’s sculpture and the accompanying programme of workshops with Glasgow Science Centre offers an exciting opportunity to engage Glasgow’s communities with the legacy of the Garden Festival and Glasgow’s shipbuilding heritage.”