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Unbelievable

00210_s_9aem39j6m0628Gasworks (A Ganzfeld Sphere), James Turrell

The Henry Moore Sculpture Studio, Dean Clough, 1993

Photo copyright Jeremy Hardman-Jones

Here’s something quite personal, and, in keeping with the mission statement of this blog, not available on the web in any way that my google-fu can ascertain. This is a James Turrell piece that fabricated and exhibited by the now defunct Henry Moore Sculpture studio at Dean Clough Mills in Halifax. The work commissioned at the Studio at Dean Clough appears to exist in mysterious lacunae in terms of the history of contemporary art in the UK. I was the Deputy Director at the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust from 1990 to 1994 under Robert Hopper; whether it was a the perceived failure of the Artranspenine project in 1998, the premature death of Robert in 1999, the change of leadership at the Henry Moore Foundation, and the closure of the studio, I cannot say. Even my existence at the organisation seems to be a matter of some dispute, since I do not turn up in any of the online literature on the Trust despite my curation of the first exhibition at the Henry More Institute in Leeds (oh, and I designed the logo too). The programme at the Halifax studio predated the glory days of Brit art and the YBA’s (though the grant programme through the Trust supported such key early ’90’s projects as Building One, Gambler, Modern Medicine and Whiteread’s House). I remember the art we commissioned in those years like the music; the end of 1988’s  ‘second summer of love‘ when Madchester mutated in Soup Dragons, EMF or The Farm; still mining the British Sculptural Tradition before the advent of Oasis, Blur and Pulp; when Radiohead was still Pablo Honey, those weird, liminal Major years, when the past had not yet become the present.

The manufacture of the fibreglass sphere in Halifax was the culmination of the project first proposed by James Turrell in 1969 with Robert Irwin and Ed Wortz for Expo 70 and at LACMA. Here’s an excellent précis by William Poundstone from Blouin Artinfo; interestingly, no mention of the first actual manifestation of the first full body Ganzfeld sphere at Dean Clough in ’93.

This version was exhibited at the ICA in 1996 and then found itself in the hands of Larry Gagosian (at least one of these works by Turrell was exhibited at Gagosian in London in 2010). Another version appears to have been constructed at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, again in 1996. The lovely assistants you see in my image from 1993 are Jo McGonigal, not, it appears, an associate lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University (and still, I hope, an artist) and Chris Sacker, who is definitely still an artist.

A Ganzfeld (Ger. ‘entire field’) sphere is an enclosed spherical space, lit to eliminate any visual graduation or distance reference. When inside the sphere (originally proposed as table tennis balls, cut in half, and placed over each eye), the physical act of seeing is settling on an effective nothing; the eye has only a void on which to rest. Like William Hurt in Ken Russell’s Altered States, the mind potentially enters into a state where it can only start to perceive itself; past, present and future are revealed. The viewer starts to see only what the eye is not what it sees. Gazing back into the past, maybe this was only a dream?

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Back to The Future

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

This is one from the original concept for this blog; one of the hundreds of slides that i took while working at the A**s C***cil in the late 1990’s and early 2000s.

The work afforded lots of opportunity for travel and because I’m nose-y, also allowed me to poke my nose into places where people didn’t often go. I can’t remember how I first heard about Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion (probably while working at the H**ry M**re Foundation in the early ’90’s) but it had always been high on my list of interesting places to visit. Virtually inaccessible except by Geordie public transport or by car, the sculpture (sculpitectre? (c) Sir Anthony Caro) was a bastard to find in those far off pre-google maps days. I drove twice round Peterlee first, far too intimated to ask for directions to something that I already knew that the locals hated…but there it was, nestled in a grassy dell of the Sunny Blunts estate, surmounting a rancid lake, the Chapel Perilous by way of A Clockwork Orange: something heroic, Arthurian and abandoned, a pissy, graffitti-ed castle. The sculpture (completed 1969) was named for the moon landings, and represents the fag-end of British Modernism, as the sixties curdled into the 70’s, Alfie growing into Jack Carter. The Pavilion was a symbol, not of the heroic age of modernism, but of the slow decline of British visual culture into the 1980’s, into the apotheosis of middle-class philistinism, Margret Thatcher.

The Pavilion is now restored, having been refused listing by New Labour’s ‘Tony’ Banks in 1998 (Cool Britannia rejecting the visual culture of Old Labour in all its forms), a Community Association having been formed to protect it (how wrong I was) in 2003 and  £336,000 awarded to Peterlee from the HLF in 2008. The steps have been reinstated, the fence and ‘softening’ planting removed, as befits an icon of British modernism. In 2011 is was awarded Grade II* listed status, the second highest level of listing by English Heritage. I link to a image of it restored, but, secretly, I still prefer its abandoned state when only I, like Sir Percival, knew the location of the grail, and whom it served.

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Please Wipe Your Feet

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Here is another of my own slides; this was taken in Birmingham late 1994 or early 1995. It’s the rear of the Birmingham International Convention Centre, leading to the small bridge that takes you over the canal to Brindley Place and the Ikon Gallery. The bronze sculpture is Battle of the Gods and the Giants by Roderick Tye. I didn’t know that when I took the image, because then (it maybe different now) the work appeared to be un-credited in the space. The sculpture was commissioned in 1990 by The Public Art Commissions Agency. Lead by the redoubtable Vivien Lovell (now heading up her own practice), PACA was one of several regional public art commissions agencies set up by Arts Council of GB to promote best practice in public commissioning by offering subsidised services to local government and private entities. By the end of the 1990’s most of these agencies had broken up into individual private practice; National Lottery funding had made the public art sector a more stable business and the vaguries of regular Arts Council support via Regional Arts Board made publicly-supported agencies much less viable.

Tye’s work was part of a grand scheme for public art around the Convention Centre (architects Percy Thomas Partnership, 1991) and Centenary Square, including a massive surface treatment by Tess Jaray and a central sculpture by Raymond Mason, Forward.

When I used to lecture about public art, I’m afraid that I sometimes used this image to illustrate Tom Wolfe’s memorable phrase ‘Turd In the Plaza’ (a phrase taken from The Worship of Art, Harpers, 1984; attributed by Wolfe to James Wines, founder of SITE. Personally, I think Wolfe just made it up). Further public space wags then coined Plop Art , delightfully continuing the lavatorial theme, to describe public art works that appeared to be simply placed, rather than sited or fully integrated,  within the urban fabric that they were intended to enhance. Essentially it  became a term like ‘political correctness’ that was simple used to describe something that you didn’t like, a self-conciously ‘edgy’ phrase, used by artists, architects, theorists and policy-makers as a public art strawman. I felt that Battle of the Gods and the Giants expressed the concept rather well, since it was both turd-shaped and at the exit/rear of the Convention centre, in addition to being completely devoid of any conceptual or physical connection to its surroundings. Literally a cloud, floating without anchor, in a courtyard of brick, surrounded by planters and Homebase  garden furniture.  However, after reading about Roderick Tye, a sculptor, educator and fly-fisherman, who died in 2009 at aged just 50, I’m sorry that his work was not done better justice by its commissioners and owners.

Tip’o’the Pin to George Noszlopy’s The Public Sculpture of Birmingham.

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Teesdale Way

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So, long time, no blog. And here’s a change for the new year. Until I can get myself in shape to a) find and b) scan a pile of new postcards, I will be posting images from my own collection, 35 mm slides taken when I was ***** at the ****** of England. Part of my job at that institution (since it was pretty much completely unsupervised) was to go around England assessing public art work that had been paid for by the National Lottery. Since, as it appeared to me, no one else was doing it, I also photographed these works of art, since I thought that it might a good idea if the ***** of England actually had a visual record on what the public’s money had been spent. So…many happy/days hours since exploring some of the hidden corners of England, and some really evocative and authentic works of public sculpture and some of the truly dire…

This is Richard Wentworth’s work as the lead artist for the Teesdale Trail, that follows the river Tees from the Cumbrian moors down to the North Sea:  a £70,000 project headed by Teesdale District Council, and group-funded as part of the 1996 Year of Visual Arts in the North (itself part of the Arts Council’s Arts 2000 initiative, launched in 1990, project of Lord Palumbo, then Arts Council of Great Britain Chairman). There maybe more about Arts 2000 on this blog, since, coinciding with a change of government, the Arts Lottery (which paid for much of the commissioned work on the North), and the break-up of AC of GB ended up looking rather different to Peter Palumbo’s original intent. The commission of Wentworth for the trail was the first purely public art project to be supported by the National Lottery, and was managed by Cleveland Arts (Now Tees Valley Arts), who were instrumental, with a committed and expert leadership, in bringing a number of important artists to make work in the NE in the 1990’s.

I was then, and still am, a big fan of Richard Wentworth (I’m the proud owner of two of the genius black-and-white dinner plates that he produced for the famous fund-raising gala dinner for the Serpentine Gallery with Princess Diana back in 1995), who’s public work is more concerned with the everyday physical compromises and accommodations that must be made if we are to live together, rather than the grand statement. To apply him to a rural setting is a fascinating project, and a tribute to the expertise at Cleveland Arts. This resulted in an object-based series of works that obliquely referenced both Wentworth’s sculpture and the kind of historicised and forgotten objects, bollards, boot-scrapers, milestones and the like, that can be found on rural pathways. Wentworth probably isn’t as fashionable as he used to be, but his deconstructed use of found objects, visual puns and public space echo is much of what is made as sculpture today. These parish boundary markers are simply cast in iron, and are split longitudinally, with a dinner plate-shaped capital, and the parish name incised on the side (lettering by Karl Fisher). This image was taken on the boundary of the parish of Eggleston and Middleton. The markers lay on the path in the lee of Egglestone Abbey, a picturesque ruin for a spring day in the North Riding.

If I continue with these postings, I will credit the superb Public Sculpture of Britain Series, published by the PMSA and Liverpool University Press. This series of books is an invaluable gazetter of art in public space throughout the UK. I have my own resources, but these volumes are great for getting the facts right.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Chantilly 1695 Ingeborg-Ps F10

Another of Carl Nordenfalk’s study images from my Courtauld cache. This is from the Ingeborg Psalter from the Museum Chantilly in Conde, Paris. Made in 1195 for Ingeborg, the Danish wife of French king Philip II (Augustus); the first king of all France and the last of the Frankish kings. She was his second wife, and only lasted a few weeks before Phillip changed his mind about a Danish alliance, and Ingeborg spent the next 20 years as hostage in various castles in France. Hopefully this book was some comfort: it is one of the key works of early Gothic painting, sumptuously illustrated in bright colors on gold, 200 folios and 51 illustrations covering the life of Christ and the prophecies of the Psalms. So key in fact that other works by the same artist or aetelier are called by ‘The Master of the Ingeborg Psalter‘.

This an illustration of the passage from Genesis 18, where three mysterious men visit Abraham and Sarah on the plains of Mamre, announcing that she will bear a son, Issac. This a surprise to the couple, since both are old and Sarah beyond childbearing age: (Gen18:12): Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

Tradition has it that the men were actually angels, specifically Raphael, Micheal and Gabriel. I’m not sure we can indentify which angel is which, but we can certainly see the deference on the part of Abraham and the nervousness of Sarah as she peeps from the doorway of the tent. Raphael is supposed to have healed Abraham, so perhaps it it he who gestures to the Staff of Ascelpius on the table, while the Micheal is in the center, giving the blessing and announcing the baby? Gabriel is supposed to have left the meal in order to mastermind the destruction of Sodom, so perhaps he’s the one with the “hello, I must be going” gesture to the far right of the lower panel. They were served fresh bread, butter and milk, and what looks like a particularly yummy calf’s head soup.

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Monster

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Nordenfalk’s handwriting again, but well known enough (?) not to have a caption. This is from La Somme la Roi, written in 1279 by a Dominican friar Lawrence for Phillip III the Bold of France. Translation would be the ‘Royal Summation’, but it’s more accurately a book of instructional virtues and vices. The book sets out a set of pre-existing texts as a canon of secular religious knowledge: the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Beatitudes and Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Known in more than 80 copies this was very influential book on lay religious thinking and practice towards the end of the middle ages, and set much of what we still understand to be the central tenants of Christianity. This copy, in the Library of Cardinal Mazarin in Paris (note the stamp), was copied in 1295 and illuminated in the style of Maitre Honore.

So what do we have here? Well, it’s the Seven-headed Beast of the Apocalypse, replete with ten horns and ten crowns. Regardimg us with a testy frown, he crushes a Saint beneath his horrible paws, while a hypocrite bows down before him: Revelation 13.1 – 10. describes the monster. He’s included because of his seven heads, which could correspond to the Seven Deadly Sins; hence the crushed saint and the fawning hypocrite. The British Library’s copy of this book, MS Add 54180 is generally held to be a more well finished edition, with our plate here being nearer a studio of Maitre Honore rather than the mater himself, though the composition is very similar. Perhaps Carl wanted this image to compare with the more readily accessible BL copy? I prefer this more austere version myself, but then again, I’m not a late Medieval nobleman.

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Baby got back

Image Another example of an opportunity missed. This card was an invite to Gillian Carnegie’s first solo show at Cabinet in 1998 at the space in Northburgh St. I’d bought Jeremy Deller’s Acid Brass print from Wheatley in 1997, so was on the invite list. It was a great show, and I kept the card because a) I liked Gillian’s work and b) I liked Gillan’s bottom.

Hey presto, in 2005 she’s up for the Turner Prize. Simon Starling won that year (I think Gillian was the ‘look there’s still painting’ nomination, but buying one of those beautiful graphite ‘bum’ drawings (even though now, it’s her painting that’s the thing) would have been amazing. Would have looked great hanging in the loo.

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Wheel-Of-Fortune!

This a really rare image: I can’t find it anywhere else. It comes from a cache of b/w photographs that I was given when I worked at the slide library at the old Courtauld Institute in Home House, Portland Sq. I’ve always hoped that they were taken by someone really cool, like Willbald Sauerlander or Kurt Weitzmann…and one of these days I’ll try and research them; they’re all noted on the rear in pencil, and seem to have been produced for a conference paper in Germany.

Bibloteque Nationale fr 2186 Le Roman da la Poire f2v ca.1250

It’s an illumination on the reverse of the second page of a C13th manuscript of a secular french romance, Le Roman De La Poire (The Romance of the Pear), and it’s a beautiful illustration of the Wheel of Fortune. The Rota Fortunae was a very common and important medieval literary device, first made developed and popularised in Boethius’ ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’, written by the Roman aristocrat, politician and scholar Boethius as he awaited execution by Theoderic the Ostragoth in 525 CE. “I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected. … Are you trying to stay the force of her turning wheel? Ah! dull-witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer Fortune.”

Fortune, staring us directly in the face, a slight smile on her lips, turns her wheel, and the mighty are laid low, the humble raised up…and so it goes. It’s a great book of ideas, and very affecting; the last gasp of classicism echoing down to Alfred the Great, Carl Orff and Merv Griffin.

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