LONDON - For the tenth anniversary of Beyond Limits, Sotheby’s annual selling exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, guest curator Tim Marlow has chosen to focus on British sculpture from the postwar period to today. It reflects seismic shifts in British art, a journey in 30 sculptures from such totemic figures as Henry Moore and Anthony Caro to contemporary artists like Sarah Lucas and Marc Quinn. Marlow, the Royal Academy’s artistic director, also selected Conrad Shawcross, 38, who has developed an idiosyncratic and abstract sculptural language to address complex scientific theories. Made with metal and wood, his works are sometimes mechanised, allowing them to shift in form over time. Shawcross and Marlow recently worked together on The Dappled Light of the Sun, the vast installation filling the Royal Academy’s courtyard this summer, featuring five steel clouds formed from thousands of tetrahedrons of differing size. A variation of the work will be shown at Chatsworth. In the lead-up to Beyond Limits, Ben Luke met with Marlow and Shawcross at the RA to talk about sculpture, artistic influence and more.
CONRAD SHAWCROSS. PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER GUENZEL.
TIM, WHY A SHOW OF BRITISH SCULPTURE?
TIM MARLOW: I think it’s an important story that’s still obviously and potently ongoing. Sculpture has been the great British success story in postwar art. And it is also the most porous and generous-spirited – sculpture in the expanded field, that whole notion of blurring boundaries, I think sculpture has been very open to that. We are in an interesting pluralistic moment, as we have been for the past 20 years, and it’s difficult to pick out where that tradition or those traditions are going, but I might give some hints in this exhibition.
YOU HAVE HAD A LONG ASSOCIATION WITH THIS SUBJECT AND PARTICULARLY WITH ANTHONY CARO.
TM: I think Caro is still underrated, and he’s the pivotal figure in that narrative. Whether he has a perceivable or direct impact on someone like Conrad, I’d imagine not, but subconsciously, or at least distantly, I can make connections. Because Caro became the father figure after Moore. At the same time he inspired and was the collegial leader of a generation that included Philip King, Bill Tucker, Tim Scott and others – the New Generation – and he was also the father figure who inspired Gilbert and George, Barry Flanagan, Richard Long, Hamish Fulton and Bruce McLean, who then killed Caro as their father figure.
CONRAD SHAWCROSS: I realised that I am a bit scared of Caro because I’d never quite understood him. It was good to go to the very nice [memorial] service at the Tate, where Tim and others spoke, to hear about him from different perspectives. And I think the thing that I am terrified about in his work is the intuitive placement of things, because I deploy mechanisms or rules or logics in a rational, more architectural way, and that intuitive thing is something that I don’t work with. But I think I am also a bit scared of it; it intimidates me a bit.
I AM CONSCIOUS, CONRAD, THAT YOU ARE OF A GENERATION THAT DOESN’T NEED TO KILL ITS FATHERS.
CS: When I studied art, I was at university, at the Ruskin in Oxford and then at the Slade, and I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to define myself in that art historical context at all. I just sort of got on with it.
IT’S INTERESTING THAT YOU DON’T FEEL PART OF A TRAJECTORY OF ART HISTORY. PERHAPS YOUR GENERATION HAS LICENSE TO BE INFLUENCED BY DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES, LIKE QUANTUM PHYSICS, IN A WAY THAT CARO COULD NEVER HAVE BEEN.
CS: Those are my things, if I am feeling low on ideas. And certainly when I was younger I always gravitated to the Science Museum and particularly the Maths Gallery, which is about to be demolished and replaced by a new Zaha Hadid-designed Maths Gallery. But it’s a beautiful place that I would go to almost monthly and pore over the mechanisms and ideas. It’s an interesting 1960s take on the Victorian era, a fascinating gem in itself.
ANTHONY CARO’S SUNSHINE, 1964, INSTALLED ON THE GROUNDS OF CHATSWORTH, IN DERBYSHIRE.
SO IS THE MATHS GALLERY OF EQUAL OR MORE IMPORTANCE TO YOU THAN THE DUVEEN GALLERIES AT THE TATE?
CS: Much more important. In terms of the things I have learned and the things that have spurred my work, absolutely.
THIS MAY SEEM A RIDICULOUS QUESTION, BUT I THINK IT’S SIGNIFICANT: DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A SCULPTOR?
CS: Yes, I do. I describe myself as an artist foremost, but I like the idea of being a sculptor because exploring three-dimensional space and working on a monumental scale are things that I really want to continue to push. In terms of that ambition, it relates to the American tradition of engaging in the public domain, whether that’s in a park in Dulwich or a civic sculpture in King’s Cross.
THE DAPPLED LIGHT OF THE SUN SHIFTS AWAY FROM MUCH OF YOUR EARLIER WORK IN THAT IT POSSESSES MOVEMENT IN ITS FORMS RATHER THAN ACTUALLY MOVING. HOW DOES THE DAPPLED LIGHT POSSESS MOVEMENT?
CS: I make a lot of mechanical or movement-based works, but actually the irony is that after years of making them, there is more movement in the static pieces. Sometimes dealing with time by showing actual physical movement in the sculpture is quite problematic and quite obvious – it’s like film directors using a clock spinning backwards to denote time travel. It’s irritatingly simple. Making moving sculptures is also a very effective way of doing it, yet it’s not as complex or sophisticated as it can be. This piece out there [in the RA’s courtyard], in this classical environment, has got such resonance and so much movement to it.
TM: But it’s literally as well as metaphorically framed by the courtyard, isn’t it? It has a cultural and architectural space. And taking an element of it in a slightly different form to Chatsworth is really interesting because, obviously, part of it comes from Conrad’s engagement with nature or organic form, but Chatsworth is this extraordinary hybrid of classical edifice and a sublime natural environment – where of course the landscape is incredibly controlled to look amazingly natural.
CONRAD SHAWCROSS AND TIM MARLOW IN FRONT OF SHAWCROSS’S INSTALLATION AT THE ROYAL
ACADEMY. PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER GUENZEL.
AT CHATSWORTH YOU WILL HAVE SCULPTURES MADE FOR VERY DIFFERENT CONTEXTS. DOES THAT MAKE THE INSTALLATION CHALLENGING?
TM: One of the joys of Chatsworth is that you’re able to bring work, most of which has not been conceived for the location, and you play with it in a physical and cultural context. I’m slightly suspicious of the cult of the curator, so I am not trying to overplay that game. But there is nonetheless a creative opportunity that’s been given to me, to install these works around the grounds.
IS THERE ANY SENSE OF REHABILITATING SOME FIGURES IN THE SHOW OR OF WANTING TO SEE ARTISTS WHO YOU ESTEEM BEING GIVEN SPACE?
TM: Once the exhibition is up, the process of reconsideration begins. Placing those works at Chatsworth presents an opportunity to see what, if any, new contexts, new connections or new ideas emerge. But there are certain artists who have played quite an important part in the history of British sculpture who have been overlooked. The Geometry of Fear generation [Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler and Lynn Chadwick] will be very interesting to reconsider. I think they’re underrated and very strong. They are a kind of gap between Moore and Hepworth and then Caro and the New Generation. I think they’ll look good there.
Beyond Limits: The Landscape of British Sculpture 1950–2015, Sotheby’s 10th anniversary selling exhibition, will be on view from 14 September to 25 October at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, England. Enquiries +44 (0)20 7293 6342.