Northern Soul’s Rich Jevons talks to Lisa Le Feuvre, head of sculpture studies at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, about its current show by Carol Bove and Carlo Scarpa.
As I walk around the current exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, Lisa Le Feuvre explains the raison d’être of the institute and the Henry Moore Foundation.
“The Henry Moore Institute is part of the Henry Moore Foundation set up in 1977 to look after his legacy. It’s unusual to actually find works by Moore here but everything that takes place comes back to Moore.
“He is, without question, the most incredible artist. He re-thought the way that we understand sculpture and the legacy of his foundation is to keep on thinking about that. The relationship between art and architecture is so important. In fact, in our Lower Study Sculpture Gallery we’ve got a display looking at Moore and architecture, and that’s not a coincidence, we really want to make that link.”
Le Feuvre is determined that the institute remains an inclusive arts venue, avoiding the exclusivity sometimes associated with fine art. “It’s really important to us that when people come to look at the art here, they really think about it. I believe very strongly that art cannot change the world but art can change perception. And if you change perception you can change the world. We celebrate difficulty, that’s why art is so absolutely brilliant, it makes us all think about our place in the world.
“Something I really believe is that as human beings we are all experts in the present. We’re all living! We all know how hard it is to live, it’s not easy to be human at all. Of all of the art forms, I think sculpture is the most democratic and inclusive art form. We all understand our place in the world by the objects around us. But as well as being functional, sometimes objects get in the way. The world is defined by objects, that’s why sculpture is so important.”
Following a year spent filming at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, I know only too well that nothing can replace physical interaction with sculpture.
“The moment sculpture is placed on display it is demanding a human encounter,” says Le Feuvre. “What I love about sculpture is that you have to see it live, in the present. So we can measure our own physicality in relation to it and walk around it. It’s really about the present and the body and human encounter, that’s what’s so important. The best sculpture is never communicated in photographs.
“One of the things that Moore did was to change people looking at art from being spectators to being participants because he placed sculpture in the landscape, he made it a part of the world. He encouraged us, as human beings, to think about the impact of art on the world. And that’s exactly what Carol Bove and Carlo Scarpa are doing.”
Carol Bove/Carlo Scarpa brings together sculptures by American artist Bove spanning 2003 to 2014 alongside rarely seen exhibition furniture, sculptures and architectural prototypes by Venetian architect and exhibition designer Scarpa.
Le Feuvre says: “We’ve been talking to the American-born artist Carol Bove who was born in 1971 for about three years about making an exhibition. And we really wanted to try and contextualise her work within a wider sense of sculpture. Something that really characterises her work is that she’s interested in the ways in which objects are given meaning through display. So we thought we’d combine her work with that of Carlo Scarpa.”
So, what is the the connection between the two artists? “Carol didn’t know Carlo Scarpa until about three and a half years ago when we were talking to her about an exhibition, so in a way we introduced her to him. And the moment she saw his work she knew that her work could enter into a dialogue with his. So there’s almost a retroactive influence that is taking place. Carol has found this incredibly useful and inspiring.”
There’s also a link in the method that both artist and architect use to look at the ways objects are given meaning through display. “When you go into a museum you don’t just see an object, you see it as supported by something,” says Le Feuvre. “It might be an easel supporting a painting or a vitrine holding a special object. Carlo Scarpa was an architect and also an exhibition designer and if you look at his vitrine the detail is just stunning. It encourages you to look.
“Vitrines are something that it’s incredibly unusual to actually pay attention to. So anyone who has ever been in a museum will have come across vitrines. It’s where you can walk around an object and see it from all sides and it is completely protected. In the history of exhibition design there is this constant search for the perfect vitrine. In this exhibition we have two vitrines that are on display and completely empty and there is something quite shocking about this. Why are they empty? They’re empty because we want people to really look at them.”
Bove’s use of found objects or objets trouvés is reminiscent of the Dadaist assemblages in their form, if not intention. “It’s a really good point because I think what Carol Bove is doing is using objects and grammatical systems of objects that already exist in the world, like a showcase, a stand for sculpture, a piece of coral, driftwood, a peacock feather, a shell. And she’s coercing them, seducing them into sculpture. So you could say that a lot of her works are assemblages. But then what she is using as found objects are not just the objects themselves, it’s the assumptions that gather around them.
“So a piece of coral has got all of these incredible associations with it. There’s a brilliant book by the Surrealist André Breton called Mad Love and in it he writes about coral. So from my subjective position when I think about that coral sculpture I think about Breton’s writing, but that’s just what I bring to it. Someone else might remember buying a piece of coral when they were on holiday as a child. What is so wonderful about Carol’s work is she brings objects into sculptures with all of their associations.”
As ever, the current show reveals the close consideration given to the way the art works are displayed within the institute’s space.
“They [Bove and Scarpa] are an artist and architect obsessed by the display of objects. Fred Sandback said that in any exhibition every artwork has to be a good neighbour, and I think here that is the case. It enables the other pieces to be autonomous, to have a life of their own, yet it enters into a conversation. For exhibition-making that is such an important thing to think about. We spent such a long time working with Carol placing and replacing the objects and now I think we’ve got it right.”
By Rich Jevons
Photos by Augustin Ochsenreiter
Carol Bove/Carlo Scarpa runs in Galleries 1, 2 and 3 at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds until July 12, 2015. For more info see www.henry-moore.org/hmi