Yorkshire Sculpture International is featured in iNews UK.
Dreamy landscapes, horizontal rain, forced rhubarb, stout shoes, strong tea… and sculpture. There’s a new arrival on the list of Yorkshire’s glories. The first Yorkshire Sculpture International – a festival celebrating the art you can love from all angles – launched in Leeds and Wakefield earlier this summer.
As part of its varied exhibition programme, this 3D jamboree anoints one-time bad-boy of Brit art Damien Hirst as the latest in a line of celebrated modern sculptors associated with the region, following in the footsteps of Henry Mooreand Barbara Hepworth. As well as four massive bronzes at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Black Sheep With Golden Horns (2009) floating in formaldehyde amid the Victorian sentimentality at Leeds Art Gallery, two works by Hirst have been installed in the city centre.
The monumental bronze Hymn (1999–2005) – an anatomical study of a male torso – stands in the middle of Leeds’s pedestrianized Briggate shopping street. The red of Hymn’s exposed musculature echoes in the signage of the neighbouring H. Samuel store and a branch of Santander. Nearby, in the city’s beautiful Edwardian shopping arcade, is the white marble Anatomy of an Angel (2008), also part-dissected.
Installed without fanfare, both have gone down a storm. Gangs of sixth-formers photographed one another holding Hymn’s muscular backside or in repose on its plinth, groups stopped to chat and stare. I asked a jeweller looking eagerly through his window in the arcade what he thought of having Anatomy of an Angel on his doorstep: he thought it was wonderful, couldn’t have been happier.
The art world – this critic included – can be a bit arch about Mr Hirst, but there are very few sculptors who elicit this kind of public response. It’s not just celebrity: the works themselves appeal and engage. People were playing with them, gawping at them, fondling them and interacting in an irreverent way not usually permitted in the context of a museum. We can’t help wanting to touch sculpture: particularly not works of art that offer a material illusion (bronze masquerading as plastic masquerading as flesh) as these do.
Hirst is not the whole story. Extending through four institutions as well as public sites, YSI offers sculptures ancient and modern, authored and anonymous, eminent and emerging. Leeds Art Gallery is showing an architectural installation by Ayse Erkmen: the framework of the gallery’s Victorian lantern ceiling, reproduced as a pavilion balanced at floor level. It’s elegant, if a little cool.
On the ground floor, installed in a thickly carpeted room, black and white photographs from Joanna Piotrowska’s Shelter (2016-18) series show adults making refuges and dens out of their possessions, suggesting a human instinct for construction.
A historic exhibition explores wood as a sculptural medium: contemporary and modern works appear alongside ancient and non-Euro American artefacts, suggesting a debt of influence. The display also shines a spotlight on less-seen art from the collection, including a carved relief by the Jamaican-born Modernist sculptor Ronald Moody whose career feels ripe for celebratory re-appraisal.
The adjacent Henry Moore Institute carries five small displays of new work. These include Rashid Johnson’s presentation in shea butter, both carved into crude sculptural forms and presented as piles of raw stuff to be modelled by visitors or massaged into the skin as moisturiser.
Through video and historic displays, Sean Lynch – a reliably engaging artist storyteller – tells the tale of “Flint Jack”, a manufacturer and peddler of arrow and axe-heads, many of which were erroneously purchased for archaeological collections in the nineteenth century.
Never mind Yorkshire: Hepworth Wakefield is one of the best museums anywhere in which to see sculpture, bringing together great architecture and great programming. Their YSI display includes older pieces exploring materials and our relationship with them by Jimmie Durham (a US American artist now dogged by controversy surrounding his claim to Cherokee ancestry, which tribal representatives deny.)
A quieter work by Wolfgang Laib occupies the side-lit adjacent gallery: a grid of rice, arranged in piles, each about the size of a handful, around small, rough stone sculptures. The space smells deliciously of Basmati, and invites meditative calm.
One of the great discoveries of YSI is the young Canadian artist Tau Lewis,whose work using textiles, ceramics, and marine debris occupies two small galleries at the Hepworth. Lewis has gathered clothing – mostly denim – from friends and family as well as her own wardrobe to create floor-based sculptures and a hanging wall piece that propose new legends of the sea.
Octopus, ray, hammerhead shark and jellyfish appear, interspersed with haunting faces, their teeth made of shells and pebbles: hybrid mermen and mermaids with ancestral origins, perhaps, in the devastating transatlantic trade in human bodies.
As well as four mega works by Hirst – including Charity (2002-3) and The Virgin Mother (2005-6) – Yorkshire Sculpture Park is staging the first major British exhibition of work by David Smith, a US American artist associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement. There are hints of Alexander Calder, Eduardo Paolozzi and early work by Giacometti, but Smith developed a sculptural language all his own, painting his welded metal works in bright colours and incorporating shapes inspired by his young daughters.
Smith died in a car accident in 1965, aged 59. Not much of his work is held in European collections, so this show is a rare treat: beautifully installed and full of fascinating insights into his early career. Half a dozen metal sculptures are shown outdoors, notably Untitled (Candida) (1965) which sits on the hilltop above the gallery and frames a view out over the park.
As well as bringing international sculpture to Yorkshire, YSI is supporting work by sculptors in the region, selected for exhibition via an open call. These five associate artists – all female – are showing in the Bothy Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Highlights of this small display include a series of striking, stained, bodily casts taken from clefts in rock by Rosanne Robertson, and a film and textile piece exploring movements in digital space by Rhian Cooke.
Stationed on the route into Wakefield itself is Huma Bhabha’s Receiver (2019) a sturdy, rough-hewn figure of heroic proportions cast in bronze, which glares ominously over the crossroads at the statue of Queen Victoria. The New York-based artist installed related works on the roof of the Met museum last summer: they suggest both war-torn antiquities and otherworldly totems.
Commissions for YSI have been inspired by artist Phyllida Barlow’s suggestion that “sculpture is the most anthropological of the art forms”.
Rounding off this sculptural study of human behaviour is a commission for the public realm by Tarek Atoui, an artist whose improvised music machines in turn create a sculptural environment from sound.
YSI was proposed, originally, as part of Leeds’s bid for a stint as European City of Culture in 2023. The region had that hope dashed by Brexit, but has defiantly committed to this celebration of sculpture in the face of political uncertainty. The institutions involved have stepped up with a slick and outward-facing celebration of sculpture: it deserves to pull in the crowds.
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For more information about Tau Lewis please contact the gallery: