Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

British Sculpture Abroad, 1945-2000

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

British Sculpture Abroad, 1945-2000

Article excerpt

Penelope Curtis and Martina Droth (eds), British Sculpture Abroad, 1945-2000 British Art Studies, 3, Summer 2016, special issue, http:// www.britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-index/issue-3

Sculpture and sculpted artefacts have always been produced in the British Isles, but at certain points in time it became popular to classify this activity through the lens of nationalism. Type the keywords 'British sculpture' into the search engine of any major art library catalogue and you find that most of the volumes the database retrieves - the edited anthologies, the art history monographs, the exhibition catalogues, occasional pamphlets and so on - were published after i960. In other words, the idea that there was a British school of sculpture became particularly appealing during the post-war years.

To explore why this was the case, we might want to consider a few factors. Was sculpture the only art that was singled out for this treatment at that time, or were other creative activities in Britain, such as painting or music, understood similarly? How does this spike in nationalist interpretations of British culture reflect contemporary trends in UK politics? The nation's cultural identity crisis precipitated by its loss of empire, which occurred around this moment, comes to mind. But we might also consider whether the same can be said for countries other than Britain. Were there, for instance, equivalent levels of interest in promoting 'American sculpture' or 'Japanese sculpture' during this period, or is the phenomenon exclusive to art made in Britain? And given that nationalist art criticism is generally steeped in judgements about a community's inferiority or superiority in relation to others, a systematic, historical analysis of the appeal of 'British sculpture' as a category would need to establish what it was being compared with.

To investigate all these topics would be an enormous undertaking, but a recent special issue of the online journal British Art Studies, guest edited by Penelope Curtis and Martina Droth, ambitiously attempts to address some of them. Importantly, the study is clear about the parameters of its remit. The timeframe is limited to the second half of the twentieth century, and the publication is restricted to discussions of how the classification 'British sculpture' was used to make sense of contemporary work being made by artists in the UK. Most importantly of all, they focus on how this category was handled internationally, when 'British sculpture' was packaged up and sent 'abroad'. The rationale they give for this approach is that it was not just the British who promoted a nationalist reading of contemporary UK sculpture, but that this outlook was endorsed and adopted by critics and curators in North America, Australasia and continental Europe. In fact, the designation has acquired its currency, the editors suggest, thanks to a process of international ratification that occurred from the end of the Second World War until around the mid-1990s.

The publication has been many years in the making. It began life in 2004, with a symposium that Curtis and Droth organized at Tate Britain called 'British Sculpture Abroad: 1945 to Now'. Two further conferences followed, and this special issue is the culmination of their enquiries. It is a compilation of no less than 28 essays by almost as many authors. Each contributor was invited to explore a single episode or theme in the reception of British sculpture outside the UK, principally through the examination of individual exhibitions. There are, for instance, accounts of Henry Moore's mid-career retrospective in Belgrade in 1955, Barbara Hepworth's in Sao Paulo in 1959, the Boyle Family's exhibition in The Hague in 1970, and Richard Deacon's show in Krefeld in 1991. Other authors address landmark group exhibitions of contemporary British sculpture, such as Arte Inglese Oggi in Milan in 1976, Un Certain Art Anglais in Paris in 1979, The British Show that toured Australasia during 1985-86, or Brilliant! …

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