So up to now I’ve had a passing acquaintance with classical sculpture and got to know quite a bit about Amelia Paton Hill, the Victorian sculptor who figures prominently in In the Blink of an Eye. However she too was working in a broadly classical tradition, so the kind offer of tickets to the RWA Sculpture Exhibition (on until June 2nd) was a great opportunity for me to get to grips with contemporary sculpture practice. Not surprisingly I found the exhibition tremendously diverse, in some ways challenging, but mainly intriguing.
The entire collection is for sale via Fresh Art (links below), so it’s perhaps no surprise there were few pieces on a monumental scale (who wants a statue in the living room?) and many which struck me as miniature, like Cataloguing Anxiety, a collection of found objects(a train ticket, a hair tie, a blob of bluetac) of the kind we finger in moments of stress. Clever and thought-provoking. Also of manageable size were the two small boats by Robyn Neild which had a twig-like quality, perhaps emulating driftwood, concealing the permanence of bronze.
Very few artists here are working on full-scale human figures as Hill did , although I loved both Tom Waugh’s Bag for Life (sold out!) and Alice Cunningham’s Conception, the only two marble pieces I spotted.
Paradoxically the giant Stairway to Hebden (get it!?!) by Steve Joyce, created from ephemeral/expendable cardboard brought memories of permanence and monumental quality of the the Paolozzi exhibition I saw years ago in Edinburgh.
The range of materials was perhaps the most striking attribute of this collection with Vortex (Kathy Hammet) in wood and Domus (Ros Burgin), constructed from old bicycle tyres, not just the most eye-catching but also the most visibly tactile of the medium-sized pedestal pieces.
And it was good to see so many recycled and re-purposed materials, particularly in the ‘found objects’ category, like Don Camerons’s Chronology and On Longing by Lesley Hilling which with its old photographs and vintage household charm was hard to resist.
I can’t deny there were a few pieces that had me scratching my head but it was fascinating to see the directions modern sculpture is taking. If time had allowed we might even have had a go in the hands-on Sculpture Lab.
What would Amelia Hill have had to say about it all? She may look like a stern Victorian but I think she was naturally curious and receptive to new ideas. If she’d been around I think she would have got down in there with us too!
The Open Sculpture show is on until June 2nd and a great opportunity to check out modern trends. RWA is also a fabulous building with many other treasures on view, at low cost or in some cases free.
And if you can get there by May 16th you can also bid in the Secret Postcard Auction – looks like a lot of fun!
Thanks to RWA Bristol for a ticket to the above the exhibition in exchange for an unbiased review.
Image credit: Amelia Hill carte de visite, St Andrews University Special Collections