Posed, the figurative sculptures exhibited at Homo Sapiens offer a rare opportunity to contemplate the work of some of the finest British sculptors of the past fifty years.
These masters and mistresses of metal are curated to include an illustrious collection of the works of twentieth century artists, together with more recent talents, such as Anna Gillespie whose poignantly emotional sculptures have been placed in Chelsea Flower Show Gardens.
The works, ranging in scale from petit maquettes to over life sized, are displayed within the cool white walls and blond wooden floors of Beaux Arts’ airy ambience.
Nonchalantly standing, reflectively foetal or provocatively recumbent, each sculpture captures a scrutinised aspect of character: Elisabeth Frink’s towering and fierce Riace warrior acts as sentinel by the entrance, Lynn Chadwick’s breeze blown cloaked figures march forth whilst Michael Ayrton’s playful group relax along a jetty as Reg Butler’s Italian Girl brazenly beckons.
Many of these figures were wrought when, post-war, sculpture was transformed from ceremonially civic to tantalisingly familiar. They still confidently capture our gaze, though latterly resins have replaced bronze.
Surveying each decade, the joyful experimental poses of the 1950s have developed beyond 1970s angular austerity to return with vigour in the 1990s. Figures then mellowing towards the more sensual introspection evident in compositions of the twenty-first century.
Our obsession with expressive figuration has never fully fallen out of fashion; as a theme reflections of our own image remain convivial company, perpetually engaging, perplexing and deeply personal.
Temporarily installed, The Rising Tide, sculpted by English artist Jason deCaires Taylor, promotes an agenda against our rapacious demand for fossil fuels.
This is a work of sophisticated political activism.
Constructed of ashen grey marine concrete with reinforced steel rods, their unsustainability correspondences with the impermanence of our fuel dependence.
Humanising this campaign, the riders characterise the present and the future where, dressed in suits, two dispassionate, aged executives whose eyes are closed appear indifferent to the environmental, cultural and social future of the two children they flank; these children will inherit a dubious legacy.
The mimiced rise and fall of the mutated oil pump horse heads is momentarily suspended. The childrens’ horses heads are raised whilst the children survey the land and seascape of the future, in contrast the horse heads of the comfortably paunched men are lowered by masterly command, taking rather than gifting precious resources as the tide turns against them.
In blending the semiotics of the horse as an engine and their heads as the ‘nodding donkey’ oil pump, the sculptor’s imagination has infused art as objection within a disturbing cast. These innovative sculptures are significantly more visually compelling than reams of complex climate data.
British viewers familiar with Gormley’s iron men at Another Place, Crosby Beach, Liverpool, rising eerily from the regressing sea are perhaps less aware of Jason deCaires Taylor’s international underwater installations in Cancun and the Bahamas – his next to be 300 sculptures at Lanzarote.
As a member of a later generation of sculptors, Jason deCaires Taylor, 41, who graduated from the London Institute of Arts is also a diving instructor and underwater naturalist, has expressed political intent to inspire our nurturing of the aquatic environment and its conservation.
Although located less than a mile south of the Houses of Parliament, on the eastern bank of the Thames curve, these sculptures are perhaps just a little too far from the selfie-snapshots of the millions of Londoners and tourists who daily traverse Westminster Bridge. The additional challenge of tidal dependent accessibility may further inhibit some of those who have the desire to see the sculptures and the brevity of their installation – a mere month – is a further restriction.
Yet despite these three apparent constraints, the sustained influence of The Rising Tide lies in the perpetuation of its potent iconography across the internet as a thought provoking and intelligent protest.
The Rising Tide is visible from the walkway behind Carmelford House, 87-90 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, SE1 7TW.These sculptures were commissioned by Totally Thames Festival whose supporters include Arts Council England and The Mayor of London.
Twentieth-century landscape sculptures, born of Modernism and Abstractionism, replaced the convention and complexity of mythological deities, heraldic iconography and ecclesiastical emblemism with less god-like though wholly recognisable human forms.
The radical relocation of these sculptures – from traditional Italianate gardens to landscapes, seascapes and sculpture parks – ensured meaningful connections with their geographic and social contexts. These sculptures humanise the landscape by being curious yet easily understood, unexpected though accessible.
The previous literature on landscape and sculpture interprets sculptures, from the emblematic to the emotive is well-documented for historic landscapes but is neglectful of the spectacle of twentieth-century compositions.
This study addresses the creative forces and unprecedented terrains of twentieth-century landscape sculptures inspired by the social and economic upheavals of the post-war period.
Awareness of contemporary sculpture in Britain is attributed to the Open Air Exhibition of Sculpture held at Battersea Park in 1948. This outdoor exhibition publicly displayed a diverse array of both classical and abstract works for the first time, promoting a controversial artistic debate and catalysing a passion for contemporary art and an enthusiasm for sculpture parks.
The landscape sculptures in this study are typified by the work of three sculptors: Henry Moore (1898-1986), Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993) and Antony Gormley (1950-). The aesthetic dynamism and increased monumentality of their work personified the ambitions of a nation intent upon post-war and post-recession regeneration. Gormley’s work, in particular, illustrates the impact that the astute placement of relevant landscape sculpture may have in creating a talisman for the economic resurgence of a community.
The legacy of these twentieth-century sculptures is their undoubted contribution towards creating an interactive environment in which art can be appreciated in specific landscape settings.