Review by Bryony Bond
On the other side of the valley from Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s main summer attraction of big see-through heads and enormous glowing human forms, is an exhibition of a less figurative nature at the Longside Gallery. Curated by Katrina Brown and Caroline Douglas, Structure and Material is an Arts Council Collection exhibition of recent work by British sculptors, Claire Barclay, Becky Beasley and Karla Black.
The Longside Gallery itself, a large and pleasantly raw space with an inescapable view across the Yorkshire hills, has made an impact on this exhibition. Many of the works were explicitly selected in response to the space, and Barclay and Black have made new works that use the architecture of the gallery.
Each artist is represented through several sculptures, loosely grouped together, along with screenprints and photographs by Barclay and Beasley. Longside’s usual commanding view of the valley has been partially obscured by silver mirror paint smeared and poured across its expansive wall of windows. A material more closely associated with machine-perfect application and sleek, city high-rises than with gestural, painterly marks and rolling Yorkshire hills, Untitled, an intervention by Claire Barclay, at once plays with the associations that come with this paint and creates an interplay between inside and out.
Barclay also used this technique in the more urban surroundings of the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, the mirrored paint served there as a screen between gallery and street, creating a more intimate interior space. At the Longside Gallery it interferes with the view out from the gallery, and through the material and the nature of its application, conflates notions of the urban and the rural, at once a recognisable material and yet strange and unknown.
This hovering between the familiar and the foreign, as Barclay describes it, is central to her practice and to her decision to physically make all the objects used in her sculptures. The sculpture Flat Peach, also first shown at Stephen Friedman Gallery and included in Structure and Material, combines beautifully shaped and stained black wooden blocks with semi-spheres of pink and black grass fibres. Forms that suggest parquet floors and women’s hats, but which are not quite right, too big or too partial to be of any real use.
Newly made for the Longside Gallery is Karla Black’s Persuader Face, a vast lunar plane of plaster powder, fallen in shallow drifts that trace the cracks in the concrete floor. A barren landscape occasionally broken by half-recognisable features fashioned from transmuted, familiar objects. Craters are formed around the patterned reservoirs of make up compacts, bath bombs lie intact, their routes across the landscape traced in the loose plaster, or exploded, a pastel debris scattered on the surface.
In the excellent (and free) accompanying booklet co-curator Katrina Brown describes Black as being, in some respects, the most truly abstract of the three artists, but that her work gives ‘an inescapable sense of the body’. The cosmetics and grooming products often used by Black in her sculptures are at once very intimate and suggestive of the body, whilst also being products designed to mask bodily odours or to improve appearances. Persuader Face contains traces of the artist’s own body, through the evidence of the performance that produced the smashed and rolled bath bombs, or the line drawn in the powder by a finger describing the edge of the work.
Becky Beasley’s works also make an explicit reference to the body, or to two specific bodies, with several works’ dimensions dictated by her parent’s heights and other anthropometric data. This specific reference seems to take on a melancholic air with Shelves for My Parents (A Shelf for My Mother, A Shelf for My Father) looking like an empty catacomb made from flat-pack furniture; ledges awaiting the bodies that will fit them. The hinges and lengths of walnut that make the wall-based sculpture Brocken follow the joints and arm span of Beasley’s father. The first of this series is a full arm span, a measurement known to correspond to the length of one’s own grave.
Beasley’s sculptures often seem physically more hard-edged and less instinctual than those of Black or Barclay; comprising of perfectly finished shelves and black Perspex rather than the sifted powder and screwed-up sugar paper or draped fabrics and crumpled foil found in Black and Barclay’s works. But Beasley’s vocabulary and scale is based on everyday domestic objects, albeit twisted and morphed into something uncanny. There is something a little upsetting in the almost-but-not-the-same dimensions of the two boxes that form Trough Box, their reflective black bottoms somehow adding to the confusion. And the photograph Gloss II really is an image of the sculpture Nightmusic just rotated ninety-degrees, but its difficult to be certain, you can’t quite see them together so you find yourself involuntarily comparing and re-examining each.
Structure and Material feels in some senses a determinedly unmonumental counterpoint to the heads and Henry Moore’s to be found in the Park grounds. Of course these sculptures are more vulnerable and idiomatic, both materially and in terms of scale, and yet the existing works and the occasional new, or specific work, respond not only to the physical space of the Gallery, but reflect on the artworks beyond its walls. The familiar notions that reoccur throughout the exhibition, the landscape, the body, mortality, internal and external spaces, are all concerns that, whilst expressed very differently, nonetheless preoccupied Moore’s work and that still very evidently present rich seams today.
Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, WF4 4LG
Title : BARCLAY, Claire ACC9 2010
Title : BEASLEY, Becky ACC31 20092
Title : BLACK, KarlaACC3 2007mainimage
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Review by Bryony Bond