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20/21 British Art Fair

20/21 British Art Fair

Art Fair
  With names as wide-ranging and significant as Epstein and Moore, Hepworth and Caro, Long and Kapoor, Gormley and Hirst all now celebrated internationally as well as nationally, there is a strong case to be made for British sculpture, rather than painting, representing this country's most original and successful means of artistic expression through the 20th century. Yet, as the recent Modern British Sculpture show at the Royal Academy made clear, as much by its omissions as by its inclusions, the story is even richer and more interesting than such a random list of names as this might at first suggest. With this in mind, the organisers of this year's 20/21 British Art Fair (being held at the Royal College of Art from 14 - 18 September) decided to put together a selected 'trail' of their own. Curated by exhibitors Rene Gimpel and Peter Osborne and entitled 'Form- Matter - Material' , 12 galleries are participating in the 'trail' which, it is hoped, will draw wider attention to just some of those other sculptors, and periods of sculpture, which many felt were perhaps sidelined or neglected in that show.

With this in mind the emphasis of the 22 pieces is very much on post-war and more recent work, the only earlier pieces being Jacob Epstein's vividly modelled Portrait of Sunita 1925 (Boundary Gallery) and Henry Moore's one-time teacher, Leon Underwood's exuberant, African-influenced terracotta figure June of Youth 1933 (Redfern Gallery). After this, the focus moves on to that quite remarkable, youthful explosion of sculptural activity in the immediate post-war period, the critic Herbert Read's 'geometry of fear' sculptors, Reg Butler, Kenneth Armitage and Lynn Chadwick among others, who made such an impact at the 1952 Venice Biennale. In fact all eight of those who showed then are represented here and many by extremely characteristic pieces. Geoffrey Clarke, for example, whose 'Complexities of Man' piece at the Biennale caused a particular stir, is represented here by another work from 1951, full of those post-war political and social anxieties about nuclear war that characterised all their work, the welded iron sculpture Man as Fortress (Keith Chapman). No less seminal a piece is Kenneth Armitage's major bronze Linked Figures 1949 (Piano Nobile), the first sculpture in which he experiments with the idea, later to become very characteristic of his work, of grouping two or more figures in a single, dynamic form. Meanwhile, equally resonant of this significant moment in post-war British sculpture are Eduardo Paolozzi's magnificent bull of 1946 (Jonathan Clark), Bernard Meadows' Armed man I 1961 (Piano Nobile), with its animalistic body armour and claws and Reg Butler's precariously balanced bronze, Girl Bending Over, 1955, (Grosvenor Gallery), of which he observed at the time "I try to get the mass up in the air like an explosionů"

Of the others in this original Biennale group, Lynn Chadwick is seen here with a later piece, one of his monumental bronzes from the great 'Jubilee' series that emerged in the late 70s, the two figures, their cloaks blowing out behind them, of his Maquette Jubilee II 1983 (0sborne Samuel), imbued with an intense, dynamic energy ; William Turnbull, too, is represented by a later 1980's piece, Metaphoric Venus 4 (1982), (Agnews), one of what were termed his 'new' sculptures, sleek, ambiguous forms created between 1979-1986, that embody ideas derived from primitive fertility symbols, non-European masks and prehistoric tools ; and finally, there is Robert Adams, whose exuberant carved yew-wood figure Centaur 1948 (Gimpel Fils), dating to that period before he went more fully abstract, again speaks of a fascination with the direct expressiveness of primitive art. Finally, though none of them exhibitors in Venice, but originally emerging out of that same post-war ethos are Elisabeth Frink, Austin Wright, Bryan Kneale and Michael Ayrton. All of them, with the exception of the Ayrton piece, Minotaur Alarmed late 50s (Keith Chapman), a small bronze of haunting mythical power and monumentality, full of angst, have left this mood behind in the examples being shown here however. Thus Frink's mid-70s Horse in the Rain bronze (Agnews) is typically lithe and profoundly imbued with her emotional feelings for the animal's grace and spirit; Austin Wright's cast aluminium piece, Sensor 1982, (Hart Gallery) is a quietly poetic and resonant abstract still-life by this still somewhat neglected Northern-based figure who died some 14 years ago, while Bryan Kneale's Triton Maquette II 2010 (Beaux Arts) in stainless steel shows this octogenarian (2011) sculptor still working on monumental abstract themes with astonishing freshness and originality.

Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth had of course also been shown in that Venice Biennale display as kind of godparents to this younger generation and they are present here too but, again, with rather later pieces: Moore with a highly characteristic 1976 cast bronze, Working Model for Reclining Figure: Prop, Hepworth with a rather more abstract small bronze Six Forms in a Circle of 1967 (both Osborne Samuel). Moore, meanwhile had become, a point of reaction for sculptors emerging in the late 50s, among the most notable of whom was, of course, his former assistant Anthony Caro, represented here by one of his ruggedly architectural welded bronze/brass pieces Late Quarter (Variation F) 1981 (Agnews). The even more iconoclastic 60s spirit is, at same time, also wittily represented here by two highly distinctive and unusual Pop Art works, Jann Haworth's mixed media Lindner Doll 1964 and Clive Barker's chrome-plated bronze, Homage to Magritte 1968 (both Whitford Fine Art) Peter Blake's wife at the time, Haworth's sewn and stuffed soft sculpture, using vinyl, nylon stockings and sequins (among other things), broke every rule in the sculpture book while the shiny blank modernity of Barker's sculpture now appears almost like an early prefiguring of Jeff Koons. Barry Flanagan, too, worked in a similarly anarchic vein for much of his life, as his edgily humorous Anvil and Pilgrim 1984 (Lucy Johnson) powerfully demonstrates. That same, distinctly 60s, spirit also lived on in the Boyle Family's work, a piece like Study for the Fire Series with Blackened Sandstone 1989, (James Hyman) clearly deriving its inspiration from the 'found' forms of the street, becoming both poetic and intensely resonant in feeling. (Barry Flanagan is the having a retrospective at Tate Britain opening 27th September)

Finally, the trail ends on the work of two distinctly maverick figures, Dhruva Mistry and Phyllida Barlow. Mistry , working in this country since the early 80s, is perhaps best known for his major public commissions. Here it is a small bronze maquette, Spatial Diagram I, from 1988-90, (Grosvenor Gallery) though the theme, the interaction of the figurative and the abstract is very typical of his subtle mixing of Eastern, European and Primitive influences. Phyllida Barlow has, equally, always gone her own, highly individual way and, in the piece included here, untitled:crushed:rolled:dropped 2011, in cardboard, cement, scrim, mixed fabrics, plastic tub, wire-netting, paint, sealant and tape (Richard Saltoun), a wide and distinctly unusual range of materials (originally made for a show at Kettle's Yard, all contribute to a typically off-beat, almost Surrealistic piece. A good note, in short, to end on - the innovative, thoughtful, engaged and poetic qualities that have always abounded in the rich tradition of British sculpture over the last century or more, still very much alive and in good hands!
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