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Gallery 3 > Special Feature Galleries > The Weebles, Little Haven, South Shields, UK
What I love most about the seaside is that there’s always something unexpected to be discovered. A weekend trip to South Shields saw me stumbling across a group of 22 strange sculptures close to Littlehaven Beach.
Juan Muñoz’s Conversation Piece greets bemused visitors and families as they head down to the beach with their buckets and spades. South Shields beach is not the place you’d expect to find a major work by a top international artist on a site tucked between the car park, the harbour wall and sand dunes. But it’s a great discovery if you’re an art lover or simply a curious beachcomber.
Created by the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz in 1999, each of the 22 bronze figures is approximately 1.5 metres high and weighs around a quarter of a ton.
Like Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North in nearby Gateshead, the figures are located on a gateway route into Tyneside, providing a strong sense of place.
South Shields lies at the entrance to the River Tyne, and these enigmatic figures welcome visitors from both the land and sea beyond.
The surreal sight of these rotund, Munchkin-like characters is a bit of a shock if you’re a first-time visitor. As I walked through the art works, I felt as if I was eavesdropping on the mysterious figures who seem to be having some sort of conversation. The positions, expressions and gestures of the figures provide clues as to what is being said. The artist Juan Muñoz believed that a walk down a street or, in this case, a coastal path, became a performance or game. He wanted to reveal the enigma of the simplest human gestures with his trademark choreographed groups.
“The way people react to the piece and the way they pass between them is very important” – Juan Muñoz.
Locals refer to the dwarf-sized figures as the ‘Weebles’ or ‘ the wobbly men’. I’m told that the “weebles” are named after the popular 1970s toy which had the memorable slogan – “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”. The first thing many people do on seeing the figures is to push them to see if they wobble on their bases. Personally, I can understand the wobbly nickname – although the figures are 1.5 metres high, they weigh a quarter of a tonne each. At that bulky weight, they cannot be budged, unless you’re Superman. I was amused to see how the local dogs responded to the sculptures. Some sniffed them and darted away in fear, others were mesmerised by their strange forms, and a few pretended to ignore them completely.
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