A touring exhibition of contemporary British sculpture includes pieces made of lead souvenirs of Big Ben and old umbrellas. Beatrice Colin investigates.
An old sewn-up trouser leg twists round and sprouts a pod of stainless steel. Like an open mouth. a funnel of wooden plates attached to a metal tube looks about to devour it. Richard Deacon‘s The Eye Has It. could be a giant sperm or tadpole heading for a hole; a head with no body about to put on a hat, or simply an interesting construction of recognisable materials. This piece from Recent British Sculpture, an exhibition of works from the Arts Council collection, is a long way from Rodin or Henry Moore. For Deacon is one of a group of British sculptors who have been hailed internationally for their new approach.
Until recently, sculptors used traditional materials I like wood, bronze and marble and let the medium dictate the form of their work; they were faithful to the grain of wood or the texture of stone. In the late eighties. an exhibition called The Quiet Revolution toured America. The artists shown included Anish Kapoor, Tony Cragg and Deacon, and this show was a recognition that these British artists had helped change the direction of modern sculpture.
Their use of found materials, rubbish and substances never seen before in a gallery, created sculptures which were outstandingly innovative. Gone was any ﬁgurative element. recognisable form or traditional subject matter and instead the pieces were witty. often constructed rather than chiseled or welded, and demanded a response. Instead of a piece being placed in a deﬁnite framework, its boundaries had shifted to include ourselves and our reaction to recognisable objects. ‘Why use lead and red velvet together?‘ says Ann Jones. the curator of the show. ‘Cathy de Monchaux in her piece. Ferment, confronts us with two disparate substances and makes us ask questions.‘
The Arts Council buy a huge amount of work from artists and have the largest national loan collection of post-war British art. This show is a touring exhibition of the work of 25 artists at varying stages in their careers who all share a common desire to create forms which have no roots.
Bill Woodrow‘s ‘Crow and Carrion‘, is one of the most accessible pieces. ‘lt‘s made out of what most people regard as rubbish,‘ points out Ann Jones. 'An old umbrella has been made into a bird which is pecking an arm. This work displays a real sense of humour and his wit is a good lead in.‘
Another example of the medium leading the viewer into the work is Cornelia Parker‘s, Fleeting
Moments. Constructed out of lead casts of dozens of souvenirs of Big Ben, the piece radiates from the centre as if it has been dropped from a great height. ‘The title acts as a clue.‘ says Ann Jones. ‘On one level it‘s a reference to the passing of time but it could also refer to the lead casts looking like a ﬂeet of ships at sea.‘
Tony Cragg. last seen at the CCA and the Tramway in Glasgow, is one of the most celebrated British sculptors in the show. He refuses to differentiate between man-made and natural objects and instead regards the results of modem technology as organic. ‘New Stones. Newton‘s Tower‘ from I978, is a , collection of plastic objects found within a few hours l in the area where he lives in Germany. Spades,
combs, lighters and handles were pulled out of the | ground and laid out in sequence following Newton’s spectrum. A rainbow of unlikely objects spills across a the room.
His work has had a substantial influence on many younger artists. ‘I think a lot of people have followed Cragg’s direction.‘ says Patrick Elliott, a curator at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. ‘He used completely new materials and also a fairly eclectic use of style. One couldn‘t say that Cragg had a particular style. he uses dozens of different techniques. mediums and approaches. Now people feel free to adopt a number ofdifferent methods or means.‘
Abigail Lane is one of the youngest sculptors in the show and her work, Houses and Occupants No 3 is a series of four small photographic works. Taken in the Plaster Cast Room at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the pieces are details which have been cropped and laid behind thick sheets of glass. They are a layering of image. glass on top of glass where ghostly ﬁgures. some real, some carved. question the links between art and life.
As well as the main touring show. the gallery will
Blll Woodrw’s Crow and Carrion, 1981
Tony Cragg’s George and the Dragon, 1984 (detall)
also host a Spotlight section. Here, large pieces of work by Deacon. Cragg and Anish Kapoor can be seen and discussed in detail in literature provided. More work from the gallery‘s own collection which includes pieces by David Mack and Alison Wilding will be on show in an upstairs gallery.
So how should you approach this show? It leads you in with the familiar on one level and bafﬂes on another. ‘I think with a certain ambivalence,’ says
: Partick Elliott. ‘I think a lot of 1980s sculptors have
aimed at curiosity as a main reaction but you can
look at it a number of different ways.‘ Or you could follow Greg Hilty’s advice in the show‘s catalogue. ‘Stn'de confidently into any gallery or exhibiting
space, identify the first sculpture in your path (or. altematively. the first that catches your eye). Walk straight up to it and view it at close but proportionate ! range . . . Do not touch . . . Repeated visits need not be ruled out. . .' 5 Recent British Sculpture is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art from Sat I 5 May-27 June. i
Admission £2/£l. ' 0N FOLLOWING PAGES: CALLUM COLVIN O INTERMEDIA GALLERY J
The List 7—20 May IWJ 55