A new show at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds is challenging the monolithic, immovable preconceptions associated with sculpture by presenting works that, by design, can be packed up, taken down and moved on
Portable Sculpture, which opened to the public last week as UK’s lockdown restrictions continued to ease, also features pieces which have, themselves, been created while on the move, or a reflection of a life’s journey.
Curated by Clare O’Dowd, the show’s concept is illustrated through the work of 15 artists working across a broad spectrum of scale and materials: James Ackerley; Claire Ashley; Hannelore Baron; Walead Beshty; Louise Bourgeois; Alexander Calder; Marcel Duchamp; Liz Ensz; Barry Flanagan; Mohamad Hafez; Romuald Hazoumè; Charles Hewlings; Do Ho Suh; Veronica Ryan; and Andrea Zittel.
“The word ‘sculpture’ is often associated with large, immobile objects that are weighty and permanent,” says O’Dowd. “But sculpture is not always fixed in place: it can be mobile, agile and endlessly adaptable. The portability of the sculptures in this exhibition is sometimes an indication of geopolitical situations, and sometimes of personal circumstances, but always of artistic ingenuity.”
Sculpture is not always fixed in place: it can be mobile, agile and endlessly adaptable
The exhibition stretches across the three ground floor galleries of the Leeds-based institute and is organised around five themes, each of which present a different perspective on the permanence associated with sculpture.
The first room, titled “Leaving Home” brings together the works of artists forced to move on from continental Europe as a result of World War II. It’s perhaps unsurprising that feelings of grief, loss, longing are prominent among the pieces in this opening gallery, given the context in which the artists were creating. Practically, some pieces were designed to be taken with the artist, such as Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, which sees a case filled with sixty-nine miniature reproductions of the artist’s own work.
In the second room, named The Art of the Flatpack, curator O’Dowd was thinking less about Ikea and more about Calder, as she turned her attention to works designed to be stored and transported more efficiently. “The problem of storage and transport is a thorny one for sculptors,” she said. “Particularly if working on a large scale, and particularly for emerging artists, who struggle to find permanent and affordable studio space.”
The third space covers artists who are creating work in response to changing geopolitical contexts, with themes of globalisation, exile, migration and conflict presented in pieces that are intended to be adaptive to a changing world.
Made in Transit and Moving Forwards populate the fourth and fifth themed areas respectively. Made in transit encompasses works that have all been made on the move, and as such, reflect the journey in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Appropriately, Moving Forwards ends the exhibition on a poignant note. While each room has looked at the history of moveable sculpture through a number of lenses, the final point raised by O’Dowd is that the whole concept of portable sculpture has never been more timely – in respect to issues brought about by the climate emergency, conflict and the global pandemic.
“The urgency of these concerns has been brought into sharp focus during the last year, and the approaches adopted by artists in this exhibition show that there are ways to think about and around such issues that deal in possibilities for the future,” she says.
Portable Sculpture is on show at the Henry Moore Institute until 29 August 2021. The exhibition forms part of the gallery’s ongoing exhibitions programme that presents its rigorous study into sculpture and its histories.