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Exhibition

Portable Sculpture

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This group exhibition shines the spotlight on sculptures that are deliberately designed to fold up, pack down, or that have been made while on the move.

Portable Sculpture brings together work from 1934 to the present day. Featuring fifteen artists, including Hannelore Baron, Walead Beshty, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Liz Ensz, Barry Flanagan, Mohamad Hafez, Romuald Hazoumè, Charles Hewlings, Do Ho Suh, Veronica Ryan, Andrea Zittel and presenting new work made for the exhibition by James Ackerley and Claire Ashley.

A large gallery space filled with sculptures: Andrea Zittel’s 'A-Z Escape Vehicle, owned and customised by Bob Shiffler' 1996, a silver construction with an orange stripe that looks like a small caravan or trailer; Do Ho Suh’s 'Hub, Wielandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin' 2015, a small, semi-transparent room made from polyester fabric over a stainless steel frame, which visitors can walk inside; Liz Ensz’s 'Convexity / Concavity' 2015, made from fabric piled over objects to resemble a mountain range; and Alexander Clader’s ‘Chicago Black’ 1949, a mobile handing from the ceiling made from large, flat triangular shapes.

Introduction to Portable Sculpture by curator Dr Clare O’Dowd

Play Video
Charles Hewlings, 'Valley Suitcase' 2002. Courtesy the artist. Photo: John McKenzie.

The word ‘sculpture’ is often associated with large, immobile objects that are weighty and permanent, but sculpture is not always fixed in place: sculpture can be mobile, agile and endlessly adaptable.

The sculptures on show are an indication sometimes of geopolitical situations, and sometimes of personal circumstances, but all present innovative approaches to the making, moving and display of sculpture.

Although the scale of the sculptures varies throughout the exhibition, they are by no means portable simply by virtue of being small. Sculpture that is packable, foldable or designed to be stored or transported at a small scale presents a very different set of challenges beyond its size. To produce something like that takes a huge amount of artistic ingenuity, and often involves truly impressive engineering and construction skills. Artists take their inspiration from architecture, industry and commercial design, as well as historical precedents and ancient crafts.

There are a number of reasons why an artist might want to make a work that can travel easily, and the fact that these sculptures are made to be portable raises questions about home and identity, migration and travel, public and private, instability and permanence.

Although the long history of portable sculpture dates back to the small, carved stones made by nomadic tribes during the Ice Age, these issues have become ever more pressing during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The combination of unstable geopolitics and sweeping economic changes means that creating something permanent and immobile is often next to impossible.

Artists have responded to their circumstances, therefore, by creating objects that are as mobile as they are.

 

Installation view of 'Portable Sculpture', showing works by Mohamad Hafez. Photo: John McKenzie.

Leaving Home

 

The first group of works are all made by artists who had to leave continental Europe during the 1930s and 1940s due to World War II.

In some cases, the works were designed to be taken on the journey, but in others they reflect the sense of loss and grief that resulted from leaving home behind, a response that is echoed in the work of Mohamad Hafez (seen in the second gallery).

While Marcel Duchamp settled perfectly happily into voluntary exile in New York, other artists found it much harder to adjust, and some, like Louise Bourgeois and Hannelore Baron, carried the trauma with them for a long time despite creating a new life in post-war America.

Artworks in this section

Untitled (Personages Series)

Untitled (Personages Series)

Louise Bourgeois

1*

Box in a Suitcase

Box in a Suitcase

Marcel Duchamp

2a

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Green Box)

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Green Box)

Marcel Duchamp

2b

Untitled (B81051), S-B-7 (B81057), Untitled (B79002)

Untitled (B81051), S-B-7 (B81057), Untitled (B79002)

Hannelore Baron

3

The Art of the Flat Pack

 

Normally associated with a certain Swedish furniture store, the principles of the flat pack can be equally applied to the production of sculpture.

Making an artwork out of component parts allows for the storage and transportation of what can potentially be a very large object in a small space. Alexander Calder, seen through the entrance to the second gallery, is something of a trailblazer in this respect, having developed the notion of flat pack sculpture long before Ikea. The principles adopted by Calder have proved useful for many other artists.

The problem of storage and transport is a thorny one for sculptors, particularly if working on a large scale, and particularly for emerging artists, who struggle to find permanent and affordable studio space. A growing family, gentrification, transport costs: all reasons for making sculpture which can be easily disassembled. These artists have responded to their circumstances in exceptionally clever ways.

 

Artworks in this section

Clown (Laughing Stock)

Clown (Laughing Stock)

Claire Ashley

4

Valley Suitcase

Valley Suitcase

Charles Hewlings

5

Studio Objects

Studio Objects

James Ackerley

6

Chicago Black

Chicago Black

Alexander Calder

7

Building a World

 

A compelling response to changing geopolitical and social contexts emerges when sculptors begin making and remaking the world.

Globalisation, exile, migration and conflict have prompted responses ranging from the highly personal to the highly impersonal. Nostalgia for a former life, or an attempt to escape the present one are both in evidence, but in every case the new world travels too.

All of the sculptures seen here reflect contemporary themes of displacement, whether that be through the peripatetic lifestyle of the contemporary artist or the enforced population movement of the refugee. The work is provisional and contingent, and is highly adaptive to new and changing circumstances – much like the artists themselves.

Artworks in this section

Green Zone, A Refugee Nation, Untitled (Munitions Case)

Green Zone, A Refugee Nation, Untitled (Munitions Case)

Mohamad Hafez

8

A-Z Escape Vehicle, owned and customised by Bob Shiffler

A-Z Escape Vehicle, owned and customised by Bob Shiffler

Andrea Zittel

9

Hub, Wielandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin

Hub, Wielandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin

Do Ho Suh

10

Convexity / Concavity

Convexity / Concavity

Liz Ensz

11

Made in Transit

 

The way in which sculpture is produced is often shrouded in mystery, and is historically associated with the static space of the studio.

In this group of sculptures both the means and locus of their making form an inherent characteristic of the work, which in some cases remains open-ended and may never be ‘finished’. These sculptures retain the mobility that is inherent in the conditions of their production.

They are all made while on the move, resulting in work that is a manifestation not only of the journey, but also of the systems of transport, bureaucracy, exchange and consumption through which the journey must take place. Travelling from place to place in cars, vans and trains, the sculptures become a form of documentation or mapping: the evidence of itinerant artistic and human labour.

Artworks in this section

Fedex Kraft Box

Fedex Kraft Box

Walead Beshty

12

a hole in the sea

a hole in the sea

Barry Flanagan

13

bollards project

bollards project

Barry Flanagan

13

Liminal Spaces, Feathers in Her Head, Sewing Seeds 2

Liminal Spaces, Feathers in Her Head, Sewing Seeds 2

Veronica Ryan

14

Sencha, Bacon, Bye Bye, Geco, Teruko, Ziggy, Tu sors, je sors

Sencha, Bacon, Bye Bye, Geco, Teruko, Ziggy, Tu sors, je sors

Romuald Hazoumè

15

Meet the artists

 

A consideration of portable sculpture seems particularly timely, at a point when concerns about climate catastrophe, conflict and, uppermost in our minds at present, a global pandemic have made the movement of art and artists exceptionally problematic. The urgency of these concerns has been brought into sharp focus during the last year, and the approaches adopted by artists in this exhibition show that there are ways to think about and around such issues that deal in possibilities for the future.

The philosopher Walter Benjamin described the experience of modernity as one of continuous crisis: a permanent state of emergency. While this is as true in 2021 as it was when Benjamin wrote it seventy years ago, it is also true that artists have responded to the challenges of their contemporary worlds for generations with creativity, ingenuity and wit.

Episode One: Mohamad Hafez

Mohamad Hafez’s intricately detailed scenes are a powerful illustration of the aftermath of the conflict in Syria. In this fascinating film he discusses isolation, emotional baggage and making as a means of therapy.

Episode Two: Claire Ashley

Claire Ashley’s inflatable artworks sit somewhere between painting and sculpture. In this film she discusses the creation of her monumental sculptural work, which she makes to not only be portable, but also to entertain and delight.

Episode Three: James Ackerley

Find out about James Ackerley’s Studio Objects, a series he has revisited for our exhibition. Originally made of cardboard, these works were designed for swift disassembly, as he’s moved studios so often during the last five years. Having recently secured more stable studio space, he tells us what this stability has done for his practice and the difference it’s made to his work.

Episode Four: Liz Ensz

Liz Ensz tells us about their sustainable practice, the origins of the work and their nomadic approach to making art.

Episode Five: Veronica Ryan

Veronica Ryan introduces the work on display in Portable Sculpture, discusses making work on the move, the use of embroidery in her pillow case pieces and the inspiration behind them.

Episode Six: Charles Hewlings

Charles Hewlings usually makes very large sculptures, which engage with their surrounding architecture to manipulate and activate space. By contrast he’s worked on a much smaller scale with ‘Valley Suitcase’ which appears in the exhibition. Here he reveals the inspirations behind the work and the very practical reasons it was made in a suitcase.

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The Henry Moore Institute is currently closed for refurbishment until summer 2024.

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