2 November 2015

British Sculpture 1950-2015 at Chatsworth

Since 2006, Sotheby’s have staged annual selling exhibitions of sculpture, Beyond Limits, in the grounds of Chatsworth House, the ancestral seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and a masterpiece of English baroque architecture. This year’s tenth anniversary exhibition was Beyond Limits: The Landscape of British Sculpture 1950-2015 which ran from 14 September to 25 October. Tim Marlow, Artistic Director at the Royal Academy was the guest curator and also author of an essay for the exhibition catalogue, A Topography of British Sculpture. The sculptures were not arranged at Chatworth in a chronological sequence but the approach in Marlow’s essay was primarily historical and is echoed here.

Marlow starts his survey by identifying Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth as the ‘presiding spirits’ who led post-war British sculpture into the Modernist and post-Modernist mainstream of Western art. One of the inevitable shortcomings of the recent Tate Britain Hepworth show was its inability to place Hepworth’s larger works outdoors, something which Beyond Limits was well-placed to rectify with three pieces: Sea Form Atlantic (1964, below top left), Three Obliques (Walk In) (1969, below lower) and The Family of Man: Figure 1, Ancestor 1 (1972, below top right with Three Obliques (Walk In) in the distance).

After appearing in the British Pavilion at the 1952 Venice Biennale, a group of some younger sculptors became associated with the ‘Geometry of Fear’; for example, Reg Butler (Manipulator,1954, below left) and Lynn Chadwick (Pair of Walking Figures – Jubilee, 1977, below right):

It was in the 1960s that it became apparent that a serious, internationally respected but fundamentally British tradition” of sculpture had emerged, something which in Marlow’s view “became one of the great, yet understated, success stories of post-war British culture". Talents which emerged at this time included Kenneth Armitage (Monitor, 1961, below top) and William Tucker, whose Genghis Kahn (1963, below lower) seems ahead of its time:

Anthony Caro (Sunshine, 1964, below left) had a major exhibition at Chatsworth in 2012 while a post here recently covered the current Arnolfini Richard Long show (Cornwall Slate Line, 1990, below right):

The 1980s, the period of the 'New British Sculpture', saw the emergence of major figures such as Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley. Gormley’ s Big Gauge II (2014, below top left), Tony Cragg’s Manipulation (2008, below top right) and Stephen Cox’s Kiefer-like Dreadnought: The Problems of History - The Search for the Hidden Stone (1990 to 2015, below lower) are later works.

The prominence of the YBAs since the nineties was reflected in Beyond Limits, though I don’t altogether share Marlow’s enthusiasm for Hurst. Sarah Lucas’s Florian and Kevin (2013, below upper and lower respectively) were produced at Pangolin.

Gavin Turk’s Habitat (Burgundy) (2004, below left) and American Bag (2015, below right), contrary to appearance, are painted bronzes, not as impressive as his Nomad, seen at Crucible2 last year.

Marlow’s survey finishes with two complex works, both with archaic resonance, Thomas Houseago’s Hermaphrodite (2011, below left) and Bill Woodrow’s Regardless of History (1998, below right):

Two pieces which were not specifically mentioned by Marlow were Bernard Meadows’ Large Standing Armed Figure (1962, below left) and the recent Conrad Shawcross, The Dappled Light of the Sun, I-III (2015, part below right):

To end where the survey began, two views of a fine Henry Moore, Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped (1975):

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