“Sculptural Forms” in Manchester

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One of the exhibitions currently showing at the Manchester City Art Gallery focuses on sculpture created during a the period from just before the First World War to the present day. Covering three rooms on the first floor of the modern extension, it features works from the Gallery’s own collection  together with others from the Whitworth Gallery, currently closed for refurbishment, and the Arts Council.

The exhibition

explores some of the imaginative ways in which the sculptural form has been re-invented from just before World War One to the present day. It does so by combining sculpture with two-dimensional works of art and designed objects to create some unexpected but visually stunning juxtapositions.

The first room – The Human Condition – concentrates on the human form. Some of the works on show are figurative, some abstract and some a bit of both.

This relief by Eric Gill is very typical of his work. A clear depiction of a human form, a religious subject, finely carved.

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The development of the abstract representation of the human figure can be seen in a piece by by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and early works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

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This ceramic head by Stephen Dixon (Liu Xiaobo 2012), created in honour of the Chinese human rights campaigner and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

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and this crystal skull replete with flashing interior lights by Tony Oursler

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were both very popular, attracting a lot of attention from visitors.

As well as sculpture the exhibition includes some “two dimensional works” some inspired by sculpture, some ideas for sculpture and some by sculptors including Henry Moore.

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The second room – Abstraction – did what it said on the tin featuring abstract works by artists including Anthony Caro, Alison Wearing  and Barbara Hepworth – this is her Sphere with Inner Form (1963)

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I particularly liked a couple of aluminium reliefs

Relief (1965) by Jean Spencer, which could almost have been a fabricated industrial component

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and, especially, the sensuous, curved forms of Icarus (1967) by John Milne.

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I’m a sucker for simple abstract sculptures like this (Rotterdam Relief, 2005, by Toby Patterson) made from a transparent perspex panel and which uses light and shadows to great effect.

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The final section – Transformation – concentrated on works made from everyday objects. They included this abstract beast by Lyn Chadwick,

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and this work Ridged Vessel, (2014) by Claire Malet. which was commissioned by the Gallery.

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It’s not immediately obvious but this remarkable piece started out as a commercially produced olive oil tin.

She explains her method:

I collect used steel cans and scrap copper with which to work. Each vessel is worked entirely with hand tools. The interiors are gilded with genuine gold leaf and copper leaf, bringing a distinctive richness and volcanic appearance to my work. I take an experimental approach to working with metal, allowing the medium to suggest a direction and often pushing it to the limits of workability, accelerating decay. This has led me to discover techniques that produce qualities similar to those found in nature. Through this process I aim to transform a mundane man-made object into a form to be treasured. The result is a fusion of intentional form and the natural characteristics of the medium.

Leeds City Art Gallery and Henry Moore Institute

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I always look forward to the break over Christmas and New Year. A great chance to forget about work for a few days and relax, catch up on some reading, watch TV and a few films on DVD. The trouble is, after a few days in the house I start to get stir crazy and want to get out somewhere other than Tesco. So yesterday we decided we’d drive over to Leeds and visit the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds City Art Gallery. It’s been a while since I was last there and there were a few new temporary exhibitions on that sounded interesting.

The Henry Moore Institute is part of The Henry Moore Foundation, which was set up by Moore in 1977 to encourage appreciation of the visual arts. The building is physically connected to the Leeds City Art Gallery by an interior bridge, and although they are independent of the Gallery they collaborate with them and manages their sculpture collection and archive.

The main exhibition at the Institute at the moment is 1913: The Shape of Time featuring sculptures and some two dimensional works created in 1913.

“Marking the eve of the centenary of this year, and with George Kubler’s book The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (1962) in mind, 1913: The Shape of Time is an exploration of the complex lives sculptures lead after their original production. …… This exhibition points both to the impact of sculptural thinking on the mutability of time and to the ways in which temporal thinking impacts on the production of and encounter with sculpture. All of the works on display were first produced in 1913, however many have been cast or replicated at a later date

I particularly liked the two sculptures by Henri Gaudier Brzeska, a beautiful little crucifixion sculpture by Eric Gill (despite despising his personal life I love his work), a Modgliani sketch, a Picasso collage two sculptures by  by Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné. I’ve not come across him before so will have to follow up with some research.

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Eric Gill Christ on the Cross 1913 (source: National Gallery of Scotland website)

In another room there was a recreation of a work by my Marcel DuChamp (I can’t avoid this guy!!) – his "Bicycle wheel" by an American-born, Paris-based artist, Elaine Sturtevant.

Made from memory and with the same methods as the original, Sturtevant’s repetitions are eerily similar, if not almost identical. Through this subversive approach, Sturtevant divorces an artwork from its visual image to investigate its conceptual meaning and value.

Elaine Sturtevant ‘Duchamp Bicycle Wheel’ 1969-1973 (Source: Henry Moore Institute website)

We spent most of our time looking round the City Art Gallery. Unlike the public galleries in Manchester and Liverpool, where there is a major emphasis on Victorian art, Leeds’ collection is strongly biased towards the 20th Century and they including a good selection of sculptures. It’s an excellent gallery with a good collection and they show some good exhibitions. They don’t allow photography but, despite this, they aren’t great at providing information on the exhibits that visitors can take away with them and their website isn’t particularly good, with only limited information on the works in their collection. It can be difficult to follow up on discoveries made during the visit.

The Henry Moore Institute collaborates with the City Art gallery to curate sculpture exhibitions and at the moment are showing a selection of small scale works from the city’s collection in an exhibition titled Natural Form: Shape and Growth in Sculpture. It was really excellent with works by Moore, Hepworth, Jean Arp, Paule Vézelay, Richard Long, David Nash etc etc etc . There were a number of ceramics too, including a really nice "squashed vase" by Elizabeth Fritsch and a plate by Henry Moore.

What particularly caught our attention were a number of pieces by Andy Goldsworthy made from leaves formed into boxes and other forms. They were particularly excellent.  They must have required tremendous skill and patience to create them and I couldn’t help but wonder how the fragile leaves stay intact. Perhaps they are sprayed with some sort of preservative?

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Upstairs they have a large display of post war works including a significant number by St Ives artists (including 3 Christopher Woods paintings) and sculptures by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and F E McWilliam.

There were a couple of temporary exhibitions including one Contested Ground, run in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Society, and which focuses on works connected to the landscape. The exhibition is curated by Debra Lennard, and it

explores the revision of the landscape tradition in British art throughout the last century, and the meaning of that tradition for artists today. Drawing on Leeds Art Gallery’s rich collections, this exhibition presents key works by pioneers of Modernism in England, from Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson to Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon, alongside more recent experiments with landscape by artists including Richard Long, Boyle Family, and Clare Woods.

The information on the exhibition was very limited. BUt as I mentioned above, this is a particular problem with the Gallery. However, I did manage to late a copy of the exhibition catalogue online here.

Contested Ground, Leeds Art Gallery

Picture source: Contemporary Art Society website

Downstairs there was an exhibition "Liberty and Anarchy" of works by an Australian artist of Greek extraction -  Nike Savvas. One room had an installation specially made for the exhibition which consisted of curtains of hanging coloured strips. You’re meant to be able to walk through the work, seeing it from the inside, so to speak, but the gallery restrict when you can do this as the work would be easily damaged.  We didn’t have the opportunity during our visit which was a pity as we weren’t able to properly appreciate the work just looking at it from one side. The other room displayed three dimensional works with coloured wool threaded on wooden frames, not unlike the stringing that Gabo, Hepworth and Moore sometimes used on their sculpture, though more complex, especially as she created them in accordance with a mathematical formula. There were also some related black and white two dimensional works which were quite similar to the op art work produced by Bridget Riley.

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All in all a good day out.