'At the Exhibition': The 1948 Open-Air Sculpture Exhibition, Battersea Park, in British Fashion Magazines

By McDowell, Felice | The Sculpture Journal, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

'At the Exhibition': The 1948 Open-Air Sculpture Exhibition, Battersea Park, in British Fashion Magazines


McDowell, Felice, The Sculpture Journal


At the Galleries the Season promises some delectable fare . . . A new work by Henry Moore is an event (page 57). His group of "Three Standing Figures" can be seen at the great outdoor Sculpture Exhibition which the LCC has put on in Battersea Park. Thanks are certainly due to the Parks Committee of the LCC for this imaginative conception, which gives us the chance to see sculpture in spacious surroundings.1

The June 1948 issue of British Vogue was dedicated to the theme of 'The London Season', 'a traditional institution with pleasant and various aspects'.2 Described by the contemporary commentator Louis T. Stanley in the (The) Queen magazine as 'an incessant whirl of receptions, theatres and dances',3 this non-stop party of social events was designed for, and mostly orchestrated by, 'the upper and uppermiddle class who made up the top echelon of British society'.4 Lasting for about ten weeks from mid-May to the end of July, the official events of the Season were postponed for the duration of the Second World War; however, 'the Season soon picked up again' in post-war Britain following the resumption of the presentation of débutantes at Court in 1947.5 It was within this circulation of revived social expectation, aspiration and anticipation that in the early months of a British summer, 'Vogue's eye view' introduced its readers to the first open-air sculpture exhibition in Battersea Park.

The first open-air sculpture exhibition, organized by the London County Council (LCC), was heralded as the 'epoch-making' event6 that subsequently provided a model for sculpture exhibitions that 'proliferated across Europe and beyond during the post-war decade'.7 Previous accounts have identified 'a war of taste' between the two main organizing bodies, the LCC and the Arts Council,8 as well as its promotion of 'healthy "cultured leisure"' as part of a wider political remit of Labour socialism.9 Studies of modern British sculpture and its public display in townscape, landscape, museums, galleries and cultural events such as the Festival of Britain in the years immediately following the war have noted the forms of concurrent media interest that accompanied them.10 Featured within newspaper articles, radio broadcasts and television reports, sculpture was put on display to a wider mass media audience. This was another form of public exhibition, one that placed the featured sculpture into particular systems of representation, value and meaning.

This article addresses the ways in which a specific example, the 1948 openair sculpture exhibition, was presented by British fashion media in the form of the editorial photo-spread. Examining the way in which the image of this event appears in the fashion periodicals British Vogue and the British edition of Harper's Bazaar, it looks at how this new type of exhibition was part of a wider discursive representation constructed around patterns of consumption, which simultaneously embraced the new and modern as well as old and more traditional ideals of post-war British fashionable femininity. This concept of being between the 'old' and the 'new' is drawn particularly from Harry Hopkins's study of postwar Britain. He argues that 'the values that emerged would not, in fact, emerge from doctrine, nor would they be based on a sharp choice between "old" and "new" . . . For at deeper levels continuity remained.'11

In her analysis of the social production of art, Janet Wolf argued that 'art' is to be seen as 'the complex product of economic, social and ideological factors, mediated through the formal structures of text'.12 To analyse the specific 'text' of the fashion magazine, the work developed by Agnès Rocamora on the discursive production of Paris as a fashion city will be drawn upon.13 Here she brings together Michel Foucault's work on discourse14 and Pierre Bourdieu's studies on fields of cultural production in order to discuss forms of fashion media.15

According to Foucault, discourse is the grouping of statements formed through trajectories of shared concepts, theories and rules of function. …

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