Sculpture…hanging on

First published 4 July 2012

You know how experiences come in batches?  There’s a name for it, but I can’t bring it to mind at present.  Perhaps it’s just synchronicity.  Anyway, I’ve had a bit of a sculpture week.

I read in this morning’s Guardian about one of the Cultural Olympiad events, artist Richard Wilson’s installation on Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavillion, which you can read about for yourself  here.   (Wilson also did “Turning the Place Over” in 2008, in which a large disc sawn from the side of a building rotated from the edge of it.  It was commissioned as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations. ) In today’s article Wilson reflects that some people, including fellow artists, would call these works cheap spectacle rather than sculpture.  What do you think?

This past weekend we had a fabulous time at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is a heavenly jewel here in God’s Own County, if I can be so parochial for a second.  There was almost too much to take in.  First we went to Longside to see the Anish Kapoor Flashback exhibition, the first survey of Karpoor’s work to be held in the UK outside of London.  It features some stonking pieces, some of which are from the Arts Council collection, under the arrangement whereby sculpture from the collection is displayed several times a year at YSP.  The exhibition shows his early pigment work, his exploration of voids and his work with mirrored surfaces.  It was really well displayed, with just enough pieces to keep the viewer satisfied without the over-crowding that has happened to some of Barbara Hepworth’s pieces at the Hepworth Wakefield gallery.

Then there was the Joan Miro show, the first major UK exhibition of this significant 20th century Catalan sculptor.  I’ve never really liked his work, but I think that was because I didn’t fully understand the context in which he was working.  I’m not sure I’m entirely converted aesthetically, but the exhibition has given me a new appreciation of his importance.  Some of the works are in the Underground Gallery, but many are in the astonishing landscape of the park, respecting the artist’s view that “sculpture must stand in the open air, in the middle of nature”.

And if all that wasn’t enough, there were still the favourite pieces in the permanent collection to visit, dotted around the park, and a few new ones to discover too.  I said about four times to the people I was with, “We are so lucky to have this, on our doorstep”.  Judging by the number of people – many families – there, hundreds of other people think so too.

And this time last week I was in Italy.  Showing a friend around the remorselessly touristy but still gorgeous San Gimignano, I came round a corner to find Anthony Gormley.  Well, not really Gormley, but then again, almost him – one of the body-cast pieces that feature in so many of his projects.  And there was another one in the next piazza – and look, another one on top of one of the towers (a bit of a Gormley signature as we’ve seen in many of his projects, notably Event Horizon in London in 2007).  I discovered later that the outdoor pieces were associated with his exhibition Vessel at the Galleria Continua which runs until 20 August. San Gimignano takes art seriously, if you look beyond the tourist shops.

So – some huge works of statement, and some smaller, more intimate works this week. Sculpture, which I confess I used to dismiss as cold and remote, has the power to amaze, move, and provoke thought.  And repel.  But that’s fine. 

And despite my reservations about  the display in one of the rooms at the Hepworth in Wakefield, it’s still an amazing space, and well worth several repeat visits.  And here in Yorkshire, if the YSP and Hepworth weren’t enough, we also have the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.   We are indeed fortunate.  And let’s hope we can hang on to them during this time of austerity, because the public, certainly, is voting with its feet.

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