Sculpture Journal

A coherent, national ‘school’ of sculpture? Constructing post-war New British Sculpture through exhibition practices

Sculpture Journal (2012), 21, (2), 37–50.

Abstract

This article explores the roles that exhibitions played in shaping constructions of a British ‘school’ of sculpture in the post Second World War period. In the accompanying catalogue to the London County Council's Sculpture in the Open-Air exhibition in 1963, art critic Herbert Read described the American entries to the exhibition as being not so ‘coherent or national’ as their British counterparts. Powell discusses how organisers, curators and critics promoted British sculpture as a distinct and national school in this post-conflict period of reconstruction. She focuses on two arenas that played host to these constructions: the British sculpture pavilion at the 1952 Venice Biennale, and the aforementioned L.C.C. open-air display of sculpture in Battersea Park in 1963; and on Read and Henry Moore as key protagonists in these dialogues. The author examines the positioning of Moore as the parent of a new generation of sculptors who were launched at Venice, and exhibited their works in the L.C.C.'s first series of triennial open-air displays that ran from 1948 to 1966. She proposes that defining or even describing what was ‘new’ about this generation of artists’ works was often a secondary concern for writers, curators and critics whose focus rather centred on their national grouping or ‘Britishness’ - a term that was continually in flux. Moore's prominent presence, particularly in the L.C.C. shows and the popular associations of his works with the open-air and the land, encouraged writers and critics to present sculpture in national terms through these outdoor displays, where links between the sculptural object, the land and nation were further heightened. Powell argues that the construction of New British Sculpture in this period was, furthermore, as much dependent on a sculptural lineage as it was at breaking point with it.

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Author details

Powell, Jennifer

Powell, Jennifer