The first public monument to Oscar Wilde outside Ireland is, indeed, a conversation starter. A bust of the writer’s head, made up of a mass of squiggly lines, emerges from a coffin-shaped base. His right hand grasps at the nothing, his fingers pinched together like a bronze tribute to the “one does not simply” meme.
Maggi Hambling created the intriguing work of art, which was installed in 1998. The artist was chosen from a pool of applicants to construct a memorial to the late writer. But her work wasn’t met with total fanfare. Though many appreciated the abstract depiction of the author, others were horrified by the memorial’s whimsical appearance.
The cigarette Wilde originally clutched in his hand caused concern, too. People repeatedly pilfered this small part of the sculpture. After a while, the city stopped replacing the cigarette, which is why his hand now grips nothing but air.
Unlike most art, this particular sculpture is meant to be touched. The green granite sarcophagus Wilde’s head and hand rest upon serves as a bench, inviting passersby to take a seat and have their own conversations with the memorial or contemplate the quote inscribed at its foot.