Despite a dreary day, the minimal modernist architecture of the Cass Sculpture Foundation is infused with light. It is a serene and airy setting which would welcome even the most difficult of art works. So ‘The Sleeping Procession’, a bright and upbeat group exhibition curated by emerging artists Gabriel Hartley and Sean Steadman occupies the gallery with ease. It is a jovial gathering, inspired by the Foundation’s archive of maquettes which the pair have put in dialogue with works by their peers and a number of artists whose work they have found influential. Casting an eye over the multi-coloured material feast of works, there is a sense of both careful arrangement and play. Sculpture, print, painting, drawing and photographic works are choreographed to illicit a variety of conversations, all of which speak to the large scale sculptural works which are prominent within the wooded green outside.
The floor is taken by enticing sculptural works imbued with colour and luminosity as well as form. Either side of the gallery is drenched with light from the vast windows and pinned by a bold painting: Hartley and Steadman facing each other, with a slightly confrontational, ‘So? What kind of party is this?!’. According to Steadman, it’s a gregarious free for all; his daubed primary palette and side ripped canvas giving off a ‘hey it’s all gone wrong, but f*** it, let’s party on!’. Hartley on the other hand has a more considered approach, his sensitivity to surface and colour is beautifully manifest in the six resin platforms which each stage maquettes from the collection, albeit with a Willy Wonka’s art gallery feel. It would be tempting to bite a chunk out of the sugary, glutinous abstractions and no doubt few visitors leave the gallery without having had a sneaky touch. This is the one of the party games; tempting tactile responses. While I am there one visitor, seemingly possessed by the spirit of the show, sneakily writes ‘CLEAN ME’ on the (intentionally?) dusty Perspex of another sculpture*.
Steadman’s’ central wooden framework houses a comic treasure chest of small works – Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘Krokodeel’ maquette (1998) alongside the lamp headed bust of Kira Freije’s ‘Forgetting and Unforgetting’ (2017). Neatly spaced around the walls, a number of polite prints and drawings hold somewhat coy positions. There are several touching moments, particularly the dialogue between grandfather Peter Lazlo and grandson Peter Peri. The former, ‘Reading at The Wall’ (1945-55), is a casual, confident and elegant outline of two figures on a wall which resonates with the younger Peri’s complex, more awkward geometries. On close inspection of ‘Collection’ (2017), timid doodles emerge from the formalist restraint; drips, eyes and penises apparently having a cheek flushed giggle in the corner.
The exhibition is highly enjoyable in its enthusiasm, curiosity and unashamed pleasure in making and dialogue. There is an exuberance as if discovering material and dimensional shifts for the first time, in painterly objects and sculptural paintings. Meanwhile the elder generation look on with a wry smile. On the back wall of the gallery, an illusionistic photographic print of an abstract collage, Fredrik Sommer’s ‘Untitled (Cut Paper)’ (1967) quietly stewards the shindig. Though no more inventive than Hartley’s ‘Platforms’, the gestural simplicity of crossing three dimensions into two, in a work though fifty years older, feels just as fresh and resonant. Furthermore, there is a confidence in its minimalism that the bombastic nature of Hartley and Steadman’s work belies. The press release states that the artists ‘wanted collisions to happen in the presentation of the works, as they do in conversation’ and in this they were successful, though the more sophisticated exchanges remain dependent on their predecessors, whose work offers the counter balance of depth and composure upon which humour and joyful experiment rely.
*Touching is completely forbidden, of course.