With the exhibition Sculpture In The Home celebrating British Modernist sculpture in the domestic mid century interior at London’s Pangolin Gallery, we caught up with Curator Polly Bielecka, to discover more about this ambitious project.
All images courtesy of Pangolin London
Mid Century Sculpture: Pangolin London
Located in the Kings Cross area of London, Pangolin London is one of the few dedicated sculpture galleries in the capital, and since its opening in 2008, it has hosted a range of exhibitions in its contemporary glass-fronted space in the impressive mixed-use building designed by architects Dixon Jones.
The Pangolin’s most recent exhibition, Sculpture in the Home, was a re-creation of the mid century initiative of the same name, where the work of a number of mid century sculptors and graphic artists are showcased in a series of period room sets, each characterised by its own distinctive wallpaper, supplied by Sanderson. We visited the exhibition, and spoke to Gallery Director Polly Bielecka about the concept behind the original travelling exhibition and what she hoped to achieve by recreating it at the Pangolin.
Mid Century Sculpture: An Ideal Medium for the Home
Between 1946 and 1959 the Arts Council and the Council of Industrial Design created a innovative series of touring exhibitions that presented modernist sculptures in mid century domestic interiors. They aimed to demonstrate how sculpture could sit within the home and, with the renewed public interest in furniture and interiors at the time, they were aptly timed. By 1950, the works on display had evolved from more traditional referential subjects to a modernist and often abstract aesthetic, with the work of mid century sculptors like Reg Butler, Robert Adams and Eduardo Paolozzi all featuring, as well as the bigger names of the time, like Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.
Mid Century Sculpture: New Materials a Necessity
The original Sculpture in the Home exhibition coincided with the new British furniture designs from the likes of Ernest Race and Robin Day that created a fresh and unmistakably British interior design aesthetic. Bielecka observes, with a nod to Ernest Race’s Antelope Chair, “the furniture and sculpture of this period share the same visual language”. She explains, as with furniture-makers, sculptors struggled with a shortage of some of the traditional materials and so had to improvise with new techniques, with many needing to enrol on welding courses to learn how to work the more affordable metals, as traditional materials like bronze and wood were either too expensive or too scarce to use.
Mid Century Sculpture: The ‘New Iron Age’ Sculptors
The 1952 Venice Biennale was an important moment in the recognition and acceptance of this new wave of British mid century sculpture, bringing plaudits to the likes of Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke and Bernard Meadows. Because of their distinctive metal work, formed from delicate, spiky shapes, they became collectively known as the ‘Geometry of Fear’ or ‘New Iron Age’ sculptors. The current Pangolin exhibition features work from each of these mid century sculptors, as well as names like Kenneth Armitage, Ralph Brown, Reg Butler, Robert Clatworthy, Hubert Dalwood, Frank Dobson, Elizabeth Frink and George Fullard.
Mid century Sculpture: Recreating a concept
So what inspired the Pangolin’s revival of the Sculpture In The Home concept? Polly Bielecka explains how visitors to the gallery often ask ‘What will it look like in my house?’ when considering whether to buy a piece of sculpture. In exploring the relationship between sculpture and domestic interior design, the Pangolin attempts to address this question. Bielecka tells us, “This kind of exhibition allows us to display sculpture in a very different setting, providing a stark contrast to the Pangolin’s usual minimal white space. I’ve always admired the furniture of this period and the exhibition has given me an opportunity to research it more.”
The Pangolin exhibition brings together some classic pieces of mid century furniture, the pieces selected originally for their visual relationship to the sculpture of the period – the desk and chair designed and made by artist Reg Butler and the coffee table incorporating artist John Piper’s ‘Arundel’ fabric for Sanderson, c.1960, serve to further highlight the cross-pollination between furniture and art in mid century Britain. The Pangolin has commissioned licensed reproductions from Race Furniture and Mourne Textiles for the show – Bielecka highlights a stunning black and white rug, a replica of one that featured in the 1951 Milan Triennale exhibition, which took the company eight weeks to hand-weave. A Ladderax shelving unit was sourced to replicate the Robin Day shelving that featured in the same 1951 exhibition. They have borrowed some pieces that are not for sale, like Elisabeth Frink’s bronze ‘Dead Hen’ (1957) and Lynn Chadwick’s bronze ‘Stranger’ (1954), in order to represent some of the more hard-to-come-by sculptures and prints from the ‘original’ shows.
For more information on Pangolin London, see Pangolin Gallery
For Ernest Race licenced reproductions, see Race Furniture Classic Collection
For wallpapers and upholstery fabrics similar to those exhibited, see: