Sculpture 1965 : Conference

The exhibition Caro in Yorkshire marks the first occasion of Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Hepworth Wakefield coming together to hold a joint exhibition, developed as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle partnership. To celebrate this collaborative form of working, the Henry Moore Institute organised the two-day international conference Sculpture: 1965, staged across Leeds Art Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The conference aimed to revisit the year 1965, an important year not only for Anthony Caro, but for British sculpture more generally, both witnessing the first ‘New Generation’ sculpture exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, and marking a period of increased dialogue in Anglo-American sculptural conversation.

The first day of the conference, held at Leeds Art Gallery, featured two keynote speakers: Professor Martin Hammer from the University of Kent, and the art critic John Spurling. Professor Hammer’s keynote, entitled ‘1965: Culture and Sculpture in Britain’ provided a rich and intriguing contextualisation of the period, covering a diverse array of topics from exhibition history to literature, and politics to celebrity. Citing the importance of Anglo-American communication at the time with painters and sculptors such as Anthony Caro and David Hockney visiting and teaching in America, Hammer argued that 1965 should be viewed as a divider or marker year, separating the first half of the 1960s, characterised by Pop and Abstraction, from the latter half of the decade, which saw such trends replaced by a rise in Conceptual, Land and Performance art. Hammer attributed this shift to a movement away from the Formalist concerns that characterised the early years of the 1960s. As he stated, ‘Pop and Abstraction were no longer suitable for expressing the concerns of these artists’ as their work turned to protest and an opposition to militarism in the wake of the horrors of Vietnam. His paper concluded by considering the changes to definitions of sculpture in the period as art began to shed its traditional attributes of painting and sculpture, instead looking to influences such as the Fluxus group and the example of John Cage, or to concrete poetry and the word as a physical object, as found in the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay.

In contrast to this far reaching cultural paper, John Spurling’s keynote, ‘Bryan Robertson: The Wizard of Whitechapel’, was a more personal homage to a much admired museum director and friend. Spurling’s premise for the paper rested on the oft neglected role of museum directors within art historical scholarship. He presented sculpture in 1965 in relation to Bryan Roberston’s eclectic exhibition programming as director of Whitechapel Art Gallery. Instead of thinking in terms of art movements of the period, Spurling emphasised Robertson’s ‘mistrust’ of ‘groups and labels’, instead going out on a personal limb for ‘individuals’. For Spurling, Robertson’s New Generation sculpture exhibitions represented British sculpture’s attempts to formulate a new sculptural identity for itself that had historically not existed. As with Hammer’s paper, for Spurling, the achievement of this new identity lay in sculpture’s ability to embrace a larger culture, one including music, performance and even fashion. The day concluded with a panel discussion with artists Rasheed Araeen, Garth Evans and Tim Scott, discussing personal reflections on the themes raised in the two keynotes, as well as considering the influence of Caro on their own artistic practice.

Day two of the conference was divided into two sections, the first devoted to the two Caro exhibitions, and the second to a series of case study presentations and discussions. Helen Pheby, Senior Curator at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, provided the group with an informative introduction to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Caro in Yorkshire exhibition, focusing on Caro’s longstanding relationship with Yorkshire, and specifically YSP. The latter’s exhibition takes its starting point from Caro’s relationship with painting and Pheby spoke of his connections with painters, in particular Kenneth Noland and his own wife, Sheila Girling, who provided advice on colour, famously encouraging him to repaint Early One Morning (1962) red instead of its original green. At The Hepworth Wakefield, Curator, Eleanor Clayton, similarly introduced the second part of the Caro exhibition and its focus on Caro’s interest in architecture and its relationship to sculpture, specifically the encounter with architectural space. 

The afternoon case study presentations provided testimony to the rich and varied output in British sculptural practice in 1965. The first session was chaired by Kirsi Peltomäki, Oregon State University and Henry Moore Institute Visiting Fellow, featuring papers from the independent scholar Sam Cornish and Jay Curley, Wake Forest University and Henry Moore Institute Visiting Fellow. Cornish’s paper, ‘Welding Influence: Buying David Smith’s Steel’ brought new light to the Caro-Smith relationship through an intriguing discussion of the twenty tonnes of Smith’s steel that Caro acquired through Kenneth Noland following Smith’s death. This was contrasted with Curley’s paper ‘Hybrids and Copies: British Sculpture in 1965’, which looked at the trend in sculptural practice for producing recreations of earlier artists’ works. Curley’s two case studies, Richard Hamilton’s The Bride Stripped Bare, Even (1965), a reconstruction of Duchamp’s The Large Glass (1915-23), and Gerald Laing and Peter Phillips’ Hybrid (1965) were considered in relation to sculpture’s reproductive role and questions of permanence and portability.

The final session, chaired and introduced by Andrew Stephenson, University of East London, with a paper entitled ‘Updating the Tate Gallery’s Contemporary Foreign Sculpture Collection in 1965’, brought a more international perspective to the conference through the consideration of global sculptural discourse. Daniel Herrman, Whitechapel Gallery, continued discussions into sculpture and materiality in a paper based on research for an exhibition to be held on Eduardo Paolozzi at Whitechapel in 2017. Focusing on Paolozzi’s chrome sculptures of the 1960s, Herrman raised questions of sculptural identity, posing the argument that these reflective surfaces were key in bringing the surrounding environment to bear on the sculptures themselves. Finally, Kate Sloan, University of Edinburgh and Henry Moore Institute Fellow, considered the too frequently overlooked issue of arts education through a case study focusing on sculptural practice within Ipswich School of Art in 1965.

The conference papers were supplemented by engaging formal and informal exchanges, which took the form of panel debates, Q&As and gallery discussions chaired by Jon Wood, Research Curator at the Henry Moore Institute and principal organiser of the conference. What emerged from the conference was a wide ranging picture of sculpture in 1965, which considered global conversations, changing sculptural definitions and cultural influences. The diversity of speakers included ranged from artists to critics and from art historians to curators, providing a fascinating array of approaches and methodologies to address the subject. The conference testified to the rewarding nature of the collaborative working adopted by the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle organisations, and hopefully it will pave the way for future partnership events and exhibitions.

Main image: Anthony Caro, Blue Moon, 2013 (photo: John Hammond, image courtesy of Barford Sculptures Ltd.)

The Sculpture 1965 conference took place on 25-26 September 2015 at Leeds Art Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
The conference was organised by the Henry Moore Institute as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle initiative Caro in Yorkshire.

Aurora Corio