We are delighted to announce an exhibition in the gallery at Roche Court comprising important works by some of the most significant British artists of the last century, including sculpture by William Turnbull and Kenneth Armitage alongside paintings by Ceri Richards and Merlyn Evans. By juxtaposing diverse works from the 1960s and beyond, this new show will examine the contribution made by British artists – both formally and materially – which helped shape an art that was truly international in scope and significance. It also highlights the intersection between the different disciplines of sculpture and painting. Seen together, these works demonstrate the provocative impact the art of the 1960s had and its enduring appeal today.
A highlight of the exhibition is an important early sculpture by William Turnbull, one of a small number of unique works he made which explored ideas of balance and height through the totemic form. ‘Pandora’ combines wood and textured bronze. It refers to the human figure but is also completely abstract. This abstraction was important to Turnbull at this early stage of his career, and he explained that “once you move away from the naturalistic image you have so much more ability to put things where you want them, instead of working anatomically. You can deal with the relation between the work as shape and as a thing”. ‘Pandora’ also illustrates Turnbull’s fascination for the arresting frontal image, as opposed to sculpture viewed in the round: “the work must be perceived instantly, not read in time”.
Moreover, ‘Pandora’ was inspired by Turnbull’s interests in archaeological and anthropological artefacts, pre-classical forms of art and religious statuary as well as ancient mythology. Archaic imagery held a sense of timelessness for Turnbull. During visits to museums across the world he noticed that certain shapes recurred throughout history and he found that “something 3000 years old can look more modern than something made yesterday”.
Alongside ‘Pandora’, the exhibition will feature works by Turnbull’s peers including key examples by Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Hubert Dalwood, Merlyn Evans, Bernard Meadows, Ceri Richards, and Isaac Witkin amongst others, as well an important drawing by Barbara Hepworth. Whilst in the sculpture park, there are also large-scale works by David Annesley, Michael Bolus, Anthony Caro and Gertrude Hermes. These pieces from the 1960s are shown in the park alongside works by subsequent generations, offering a unique survey of British art of the last 60 years which is our continued focus at the New Art Centre. In the Artists House we are also showing new work by Bruce McLean who made his own considerable mark in the 1960s.
For this, his second exhibition at Roche Court, we are delighted that Bruce McLean will be showing a series of new jugs and vases in the Artists House. Ceramics have played an increasingly significant role in McLean’s practice, which has been in an almost constant state of invention and re-invention, and currently includes performance, sculpture, installation, public art, painting, printmaking, drawing, photography and film as well as ceramics. McLean’s ceramics have proven controversial in the past, when in 1987 a three-foot tall sculpture with a large beaker and a small handle entered the collections of the V&A. Despite its apparent shortcomings as a functional jug, Oliver Watson – then the V&A’s Chief Curator of the Ceramics and Glass Department – concluded his defence of the acquisition by declaring that Bruce McLean highlights the absurdity of the art / craft debate as he is “not a ‘potter’, but this is surely a good pot”. More than thirty years later, McLean has created a new body of work entitled Garden Ware. Restricted to a palette of black and white, each piece is unique with designs inspired by the flowers and plants of McClean’s garden. And whilst these new works may recall his first jug and the response it initially received, today we are surely more able to accept these works as sculpture, which is exactly what the artist intended.
Bruce McLean (b. 1944) studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1961 to 1963. From 1963 – 66 he attended St Martin’s School of Art, London, where he famously reacted against the formalist academic teaching of teachers such as Anthony Caro, Phillip King and William Tucker. In 1966 he abandoned conventional studio practice for impermanent sculptures made using materials such as water, along with performances of a generally satirical and subversive nature. In ‘Pose Work for Plinths I’ (1971; London, Tate), photographs record a performance in which McLean appeared in a variety of different positions on plinths to parody the poses of Henry Moore’s celebrated reclining figures. When in 1972 he was offered an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, he opted, with mocking intent, for a retrospective lasting only one day. He has continued to use humour to confront the pretensions of the art world and wider social issues such as the nature of bureaucracy and institutional politics. From the mid-1970s, while continuing to mount occasional performances, McLean turned increasingly to painting and most recently to ceramics.
McLean has participated in many major international exhibitions since the 1960s, highlights include: When Attitudes Become Form, Kunsthalle, Bern (1969); Information, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970); The British Avant Garde, New York Cultural Centre (1971); Documenta 6, Kassel (1977); Art in the Seventies, Venice Biennale (1980); A New Spirit in Painting, Royal Academy, London; Zeitgeist, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (1982); Documenta 7, Museum Fredericianum, Kassel (1982); Thought and Action, Laforet Museum, Tokyo (1983); The Critical Eye, Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven (1984); Out of Actions; Between Performance and the Object, 1949-79, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1997); Bruce McLean and William Alsop, Two Chairs, Milton Keynes Gallery (2002) and Body and Void: Echoes of Moore in Contemporary Art, The Henry Moore Foundation, Hertfordshire (2014). McLean’s work is in private and public collections around the world. In 1985 he was awarded the John Moore’s Painting Prize. Bruce McLean’s 100 Plates were commissioned by the British Ceramics Biennial and were shown in the gallery at the New Art Centre in 2016.