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Website: Chestnuts Design

Interview with Sam Cornish by Hannah Hughes


June 2017


©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Currently on view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park is the Arts Council touring exhibition Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, co-curated by independent curator and writer Sam Cornish and the collection’s Senior Curator, Natalie Rudd.


Kaleidoscope features the work of 25 artists, including David Annesley, Anthony Caro, Barry Flanagan, John Hoyland, Robyn Denny, Tess Jaray, Phillip King, Kim Lim, Jeremy Moon, Mary Martin, Bridget Riley, Tim Scott, Richard Smith, William Tucker and William Turnbull. 


In the following interview Sam Cornish and Hannah Hughes discuss the curatorial approach to the exhibition, which re-examines the Arts Council's collection of 1960s abstract art from the perspective of colour, repetition, sequence and symmetry. 



HH

Let’s start with discussing the initial idea for this exhibition. Did the overarching themes of repetition, sequence and symmetry emerge during your research into the collection, or was this a conscious approach from the beginning? Did any particular works provide the launching point?


SC

I noticed that repetition, sequence and symmetry were qualities found in the sculpture of Phillip King, Tim Scott, David Annesley, Michael Bolus and others, which were not found, or found in different ways, in that of Anthony Caro, the most well-known sculptor in the exhibition. That seemed like a worthwhile thing to explore, as well as something which could make a visually striking and coherent exhibition. With my co-curator Natalie Rudd, I then looked for these qualities in the work of other artists represented in the collection – abstract painters such as John Hoyland and Jeremy Moon; artists who married abstraction and Pop art, such as Richard Smith and Antony Donaldson; Op artists such as Bridget Riley and Constructionists such as Mary Martin and Anthony Hill. There were also a few from more left-field positions such as Eduardo Paolozzi, Bernard Schottlander and Barry Flanagan.


Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, installation views at Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park © artists and estates. Photo: Jonty Wilde  7360


Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, installation views at Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park © artists and estates. Photo: Jonty Wilde  


Bridget Riley Movement in Squares, 1961, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © 2016 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved. Courtesy Karsten Schubert, London  



HH

Can we talk about the Arts Council collection from which this is drawn? As I understand it, the Arts Council acquired many of the works in this exhibition soon after their inclusion in the Whitechapel Gallery’s 'New Generation' shows of the mid-sixties, recognising the importance of new directions taken by artists responding to contemporary materials and technology. Why was the decision made to reappraise this particular period of 60s British abstraction in this exhibition?


SC

The sculpture from this time is generally called New Generation Sculpture, after the run of exhibitions at the Whitechapel, although the Whitechapel director Bryan Robertson proposed the title ‘New Shape Sculpture’, which I think is more descriptive. I don’t have the exact chronology of the Arts Council acquisitions to hand, although from memory many of the works seemed to have been acquired in 1966 or 1967. The New Generation shows took place in 1964 (painting), 1965 (sculpture), 1966 and 1968 (both mixed). Although difficult to ignore in the art of this period, I think ultimately it would be good to break the connection, particularly in the case of the sculptors, who I think deserve a much less provincial standing.


Whatever you call it, the phenomenon has been neglected since the 60s, aside from the very prominent example of Anthony Caro. The permanent collection displays at Tate Modern generally includes a large show of Minimalism and Post-Minimalism, and the Tate has recently begun to explore international parallels to what had previously been understood as American phenomena. The British sculpture of the ’60s has a distinct identity in relation to these other tendencies, one which the Tate could readily explore, thanks to the Alistair McAlpine Gift it received in the early ’70s. Look up the Tate’s holdings of Tim Scott, David Annesley or Michael Bolus (or almost any of the other sculptors in the show) and you should see what I mean!

Tim Scott Quinquereme, 1966, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist  

HH

Are all the works in the exhibition from the Arts Council Collection, or were there any other significant loans?


SC

Although the Arts Council Collection is not as extensive as the Tate’s, they bought well in this period, so there was a good selection to choose from. There were six loans out of the 25 works. All the loans were of artists represented in the collection, but with works which were for various reasons not ideal for this exhibition. The Peter Sedgley and the William Turnbull come from the British Council; the Michael Bolus from Sheffield Museums; and the Jeremy Moon from the University of Warwick, one of the venues for the exhibition’s tour. The Hoyland came from The John Hoyland Estate and the Antony Donaldson from a private collection.


Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, installation views at Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park © artists and estates. Photo: Jonty Wilde  


HH

There are also some surprises in the show - works by Eduardo Paolozzi and Barry Flanagan for example, whose work seems to sit somewhat outside these groups. Do you see these as counterpoints to the concerns of other New Generation sculptors? 


SC

I think Paolozzi’s Dollus II (1968) could be seen, amongst other things, as a parody of New Generation sculpture, removing the high aesthetic and theoretical ideals of many of these artists and emphasising that sculpture is a luxury consumer product. The Flanagan, in common with the rest of his work, also contains a hint of the absurd. But more important – certainly more interesting to me – is its partial rejection of the aesthetic of New Generation sculpture. Flanagan studied sculpture at St Martin’s, where Caro and many of the other sculptors taught. New Generation sculpture often suggests movement or development while remaining literally static and rigid, but by using floppy parts, reassembled each time his Heap 4 (1967) is shown, Flanagan directly subverted these qualities. There is also a sense of weightlessness through much of the sculpture in the exhibition, whereas Heap 4 sits heavily on the ground. I couldn’t say it’s my favourite work in the show, but I think the contrast is illuminating.



Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, installation views at Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park © artists and estates. Photo: Jonty Wilde

HH

Anthony Caro is perhaps the most well-known central figure of the New Generation sculptors, but here your focus on the qualities of repetition, sequence and symmetry brings the importance of other artists to the fore - Phillip King, for example. Did viewing his work through this lens yield any unexpected discoveries for you? 


SC

King is interesting because his use of symmetry involves a Surrealist-type ambiguity in the early ’60s – most strikingly in his great cone sculptures from 1962-1965 – towards a more deadpan, reductive art, parallel to, and probably influenced by, American Minimalism later in the decade. The work in the show Point X (1965) can be seen as transitional between these two poles: it can be seen as a deconstructed cone, and while its parts are quite simple, there is a lingering strangeness in their arrangement, and in the way the green-yellow colour around the middle of the elements questions their solidity.


Eduardo Paolozzi, Dollus II, 1968 Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, Licensed by DACS 2017.  

Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, installation views at Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park © artists and estates. Photo: Jonty Wilde

HH

You appear to highlight the innate seriality and reproducibility of the ‘new’ materials of the time, such as plastic, acrylic-coated steel and bold synthetic colours. How important were these materials in the development of the new directions taken by artists in this exhibition?


SC

Modern materials such as fibreglass are in a sense inherently amenable to reproduction, as it is relatively easy to repeat a form from a mould. However, I don’t think it’s sufficient to see seriality as simply originating in the process in this way. Lots of earlier sculptural techniques are bound up with reproduction - as is well known, Rodin made extensive use of repeated figures in his art.


In my catalogue essay I link New Generation’s feel for fibreglass and other plastics to the irrational, magical and banal qualities that Roland Barthes associated with plastic: “an artificial Matter, more bountiful than all the natural deposits, is about to… determine the very invention of forms”. I think this helps begin to describe some of the strange animation in much of the work – in this exhibition most clearly William Tucker’s Thebes (1966) and John Dee’s Revelation (1966). This is not to say using plastics inevitability generates strange or disconcerting effects or that the sculptors wanted to directly say something about the nature of plastics. Rather there seems to have been a concordance between the structural possibilities and resonances of plastics - whether fibreglass or acrylic paint - and the types of expression the sculptors were reaching for. Barthes' essay gives us a way of distinguishing the New Generation's feel for modern materials from the employment of these same materials within the rational aesthetic of the Constructivists, such as Mary Martin and Anthony Hill.  

William Tucker, Thebes, 1966, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © The Artist.

HH

Lastly, what’s next for you? Can you tell us about the projects you’re currently working on? 


SC

I’m curating an exhibition of the vertical constructed steel sculptures of Peter Hide in Weston Park, Staffordshire. It opens this summer and runs for a year. We’ve just finished the catalogue, published by Sansom & Co, which documents the progression of vertical sculptures in Hide’s career. I’m also writing the text for a monograph on Tim Scott. My long-term project is the catalogue raisonné of the paintings of John Hoyland. There are a few other things on the go as well.



Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art continues until 18 June 2017 at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, then travels to Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, The University of Nottingham, 15 July – 24 September; Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, 5 October – 9 December 2017; Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool, 24 February – 3 June 2018.