When I was in the middle of writing my biography of Bernard Leach, the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds organized a conference on twentieth century sculpture for which contributions were requested. When I suggested a paper on Leach as a sculptor, after a long silence the convenor, clearly embarrassed, said that the view was that this topic would not fit the agenda. That was nearly ten years ago.
It was with something of a surprise, and with great pleasure, therefore, to see in the recent copy of the Henry Moore Institute Newsletter (April/May 2009 Issue No. 83) that two of the fellows appointed 2009/10 are to develop research projects on aspects of ceramics. Independent art historian Simon Ford is to look into ‘Sculpture in a Purely Abstract Form’: William Staite Murray and Modern British Sculpture. Ford will examine the work of Murray and ‘document, contextualize and interpret his many connections with the sculptors of his day’ with the aim of demonstrating that ‘pottery played a key role in interwar debates about modern ands abstract British sculpture’.
Jeffrey Jones of Cardiff School of Art and Design, UWIC, is to consider ‘The Relationship of Sculpture to Pottery in British Art from the Early Twentieth Century to the Present Day’. His argument is that at certain periods the interests of sculptors and potters in Britain have either overlapped or come into sharp focus. ‘My research will use case studies to track and interpret these relationships in order to provide an historical; context in which the work of contemporary practitioners can be better understood and appreciated’.
I hope they are talking to each other.
Equally surprising is the announcement that the Leeds City Art Gallery are to explore the close relationship between ceramics and other art forms. A small display will set twentieth century ceramics alongside sculptures from the collection. The majority of the ceramics are from the 1970s and 80s, and include work by Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Elizabeth Fritsch and Martin Smith as well as more recent pieces by David Roberts, Dan Fisher and Nicholas Portella. The collection, stored at Lotherton Hall, has rarely been shown. The ceramics will focus on the ‘vessel’ and will be shown alongside sculptures by Paule Vezelay, Nicholas Pope, Richard Long, Stephen Cox and others.
Someone in Leeds clearly has their finger on the trigger.