Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

The New Art, Hayward Gallery, London, 1972: New as Compromise, or When What Happens around the Exhibition Is as Interesting as What Happens in the Exhibition

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

The New Art, Hayward Gallery, London, 1972: New as Compromise, or When What Happens around the Exhibition Is as Interesting as What Happens in the Exhibition

Article excerpt

The New Art exhibition, held at the Hayward Gallery in London between 17 August and 24 September 1972, has come to stand in the history of British art as a landmark exhibition: the first substantial institutional survey of British conceptual art and a show that 'changed the climate' of art in Britain in the 1970s. It was selected by Anne Seymour, temporarily seconded from her post as a keeper at the Tate Gallery, and included work by Keith Arnatt, Art & Language, Victor Burgin, Michael Craig-Martin, David Dye, Barry Flanagan, Hamish Fulton, Gilbert & George, John Hilliard, Richard Long, Keith Milow, Gerald Newman, John Stezaker and David Tremlett.

Although it was not primarily an exhibition of sculpture - as the use of the more generic term 'Art' in the title suggests - the majority of the exhibitors had a connection to sculpture, whether it was one of self-identification, as with Gilbert & George, or of having studied or been associated with the sculpture department at a British art school. One art school in particular dominated: half of the 14 exhibitors (or nine of 16 if you include the two artists who withdrew from the final exhibition, of which more later), studied and/or taught in the Sculpture Department at St Martin's School of Art in London.

One other notable characteristic of this showing of British conceptual art was the proportion of artworks that used or related to landscape, which featured in the work of six out of the 14 artists in the show. Landscape-related works dominated the display from the moment the visitor entered the exhibition. Gilbert & George's huge drawing, The Shrubberies, installed to fit around the entrance doorways like wallpaper or a Renaissance tapestry, filled the wall space of the first gallery to create a total environment (fig. 1). Proceeding up the ramp into the second space, one encountered three concentric circles of beach pebbles, Richard Long's Three Circles of Stones, bringing this distinctive material of the British seaside into the concrete bunker-like architecture of the Hayward (fig. 2). Even the work of perhaps the most committed conceptualists in the exhibition, Art & Language, featured landscape if one includes their cartographic image Map not to indicate . . . (1967), which was illustrated in the catalogue.1

Through pictorial and sculptural means - drawings on the wall, sculpture on the gallery floor - these two works turned the gallery into the outside world and brought the outside world into the gallery space - in both cases creating an affective environment for the viewer. The gallery walls were dissolved to become a view to an elsewhere, in the case of Gilbert & George, or affirmed in their brute materiality by contrast with the smooth tide-worn forms of Long's pebbles. These two works, the opening vistas of the exhibition, are exemplars in a quite literal sense of the permeability between inside and outside that The New Art exhibition manifests more generally.

However, while these aspects - The New Art as sculpture and the extent to which landscape dominated the show - are pertinent to the discussion that follows, they are not its focus.2 The principal concern here is not with what was in the exhibition, but with what happened outside the exhibition. This article considers what went on outside the exhibition in both a literal sense - what was going on in the environs of the Hayward Gallery while the show was in preparation and in progress - and in a more theoretical sense, in examining the framing of the exhibition in discourse: a consideration of the surrounding conditions that both enabled and constrained the exhibition.

Boris Groys argued that 'the museum always was - and remains - the only possible site of innovation',3 and 'only the new can be recognized by the museum-trained gaze as real, present and alive'.4 In The New Art one can observe closely the training of the museum gaze on a 'new' set of objects, and, in the passage of those objects into the museum collection, track the changing terms and conditions of the institutional frame as it accommodates itself, and its contents, in new ways to new art: towards 'a general recognition that something new had happened and that the terms of art had changed'. …

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