Collections can tell a variety of narratives, depending on the logic, theoretical framework or historical context chosen by their curator. The Arts Council Collection is a national loan collection with more than 8,000 works of British art from 1946 to the present day. Asked to curate a show from the collection by Yorkshire Sculpture Park as part of the National Partner scheme, Rana Begum has selected works for display that she says ‘have a soul’, an audaciously subjective criteria with which to curate an exhibition.
The reality of this decision meant Begum initially selecting artworks based on their visual impact, disregarding the titles or names of artists. The result is an exhibition with a distinct aesthetic, full of playful and satisfying visual encounters that reflect Begum’s own sensibilities and interest in the relationship between depictions of two and three dimensions; repetition of shape and form; the effects of light; and a sense of movement. Begum’s refreshing lightness of touch towards the collection, invigorates the works, leaving them open for viewers to encounter and discover intuitively.
Many of the works make bold statements within the hangar-like gallery, but rather than compete with each other, they enter into a fruitful dialogue. It is hard not to be charmed by Gary Hume’s ‘Fragment of a Rainbow VI’ (2011) that playfully arcs across the wall above windows that frame the spectacular landscape of the Breton Estate beyond. Hume’s work reflects across the gallery to Flore Nové-Josserand’s site-specific work ‘Better Days’ (2010/2017), which combines spray painted fluorescent clouds with five pink sticks leant against the wall that gesture upwards to a green hexagon propelled hopefully skyward. The propped sticks make a visual connection to Richard Wentworth’s ‘Tirana 1999, Occasional Geometries’ (2000) – which leant the exhibition its title and depicts different mismatched panes of glass leant against a wall. Today, Instagram has become a platform for sharing the occurrence of similar accidental or incidental geometries, as demonstrated by Nicky Hirst’s ‘Instagram Feed’ (2016), a series of photographs of architectural details, from tiled floors to brickwork.
Movement is created and explored in the exhibition through Barry Martin’s kinetic sculpture, ‘Series Revelation – Tret’ (1965-66), but also through works that shift with the movement of the viewer, such as ‘Hybrid Drawings’ (2017) by Ayesha Singh. Based on fragments of buildings in London and Delhi, Singh’s line drawings in wrought iron combine to create an ever-shifting image that can only be fully appreciated in physical space. On the lawn outside the gallery, Rasheed Araeen’s ‘Zero to Infinity’ (2017) anticipates movement through the invitation for visitor interaction. His outline building block cubes, have been recreated in ‘Sunflower Symphony Yellow’ for the exhibition. Further afield in the park, Araeen has floated a series of disks on one of the lakes, where they will continue to drift of their own accord for the work ‘Jub Chuker Chulay Jayain (When the Chakras Float Away)’ (2017).
Quieter, more meditative moments in the exhibition include Roger Ackling’s ‘Night and Day (1 hour)’ (1977), which features three triangles burnt into wood using only the magnified power of the sun, and Mona Hatoum’s ‘+ and –’ (1994) that simultaneously writes and erases circular lines within a square of sand. Kenneth Martin’s ‘Change, Order, Change’ (1979), which from a distance looks like a map or plan, was meticulously created through the chance selection of grid points. Made shortly after the death of his wife, he rigorously stuck to self-imposed rules as a way to avoid emotion or self-expression.
Selecting works for the exhibition Begum recognised pieces by former tutors and mentors. One of these mentors was Noel Forster, whose painting ‘Two Units, One in Grey’ (1975) is included in the show. The intersecting lines across the large canvas resonate with his contemporary Norman Dilworth’s sculpture ‘Single Line’ (1976) placed nearby, but also with the grid-like shadows depicted in ‘Shadow No. 52’ (1994) by Brad Lochore. The process of education, mentorship, gaining and passing on knowledge, is also reflected in Jessie Darling’s sculpture ‘March of the Valedictorians’ (2016), which refers to graduation as a rite of passage with a cluster of uncertain, overgrown school chairs stepping forward on spindly legs.
By bringing together works from 1960s and 1970s with work by younger artists, ‘Occasional Geometries’ addresses the idea of legacy and influence, revealing how works speak to one another across generations, and the value of the Arts Council Collection, which supports British artists by acquiring works at an early stage in their careers.