YES (YOUNG ENGLISH SCULPTORS)
James Capper - Luke Hart - David Murphy
12th August 2012 — 2nd September 2012
Fundaziun Not Vital, Ardez, CH
YES (YOUNG ENGLISH SCULPTORS) is a group show in the fundaziun Not Vital of three London-based sculptors: James Capper, Luke Hart and David Murphy. Home to Not Vital's library of Romantsch books and a permanent collection of art spanning over several decades, the foundation consists of a beautiful historical house with features hundreds of years old. YES is a showcase of three promising young artists who have been given a unique opportunity to display their work in an unconventional exhibition space and, by extension, to re-evaluate their work in the wider context: cultural, historical, aesthetic.
By gathering together Capper, Hart and Murphy I hope to shed light on art that is powerful and new, art-making that is approached in a serious manner, yet not without playful and experimental turns. The exhibition consists of a number of works on paper, maquettes, small and larger sculptures. The sculptures are executed in a wide-ranging variety of materials, including steel, rubber, plaster, silicone, clay and wood. The artists are of the same generation and peer group, they are friends and studied at some of same art schools, live in the same city, and visit the same exhibitions. Despite this context, the artists’ sculptural concerns, studio practice, and artistic precedents have little in common and pinpointing the differences is arguably more interesting than forcing parallels between them. The work exhibited in YES draws from fields as far-reaching as industrial equipment, eel-traps and cutting-edge technology to produce, respectively, earth-marking machines, elegant free-standing sculpture, and floor-pieces that explore the potential of movement.
This exhibition provides an opportunity in which to observe how three dissimilar, and well articulated, creative languages can play off on one another. A fitting analogy might be the The School of London, a group of artists who were bunched together by critics and art historians as a movement, because they were of a similar age-group, were working in London contemporaneously and producing the best art at that time. Yet they would not consider themselves having mutual concerns or styles. Similarly, YES is about presenting some of the best young talent in London simply because they are each, in their own right, extremely good artists. The juxtaposition between the work of the three artists exists naturally alongside other juxtapositions: that between the old house and new art, between the three London sculptors and the work of Not Vital – English meets Swiss, emerging artists meet established artist. This makes for a context that is theatrical, and unexpected.
We must observe how the artists’ work - both individually and as a group - responds to, and engages with, the fabric of the Foundation. It is a building with many layers of history - generations of the affluent and influential Von Planta family lived in this house. The paw of a mountain bear, their family crest, can be found in both obvious and unexpected parts of the house – it is for the artist and the audience to discover such details that allude to those mysteries that are born out of time. Aside from this paw, there are many other sculptural elements in the house that resonate with the artists in different ways: its unprecedented tower-like height; huge, old wooden ceiling beams; thick doors with ornate handles, antiquated sliding lock systems and beautiful hinges; vaulted ceilings; painstakingly carved wooden (and sometimes painted) furniture; and the delicately shaped windows under the roof.
Each artist and visitor invents a story of this house, and the artwork shares, or maybe shapes, the stories of our imagination. This is what binds Capper, Hart and Murphy: not similarities between their practice, concepts, or the final outcome of their work, but their conversations, driven by an infectious mixture of panic and delight at the prospect of exhibiting in such a space. These artists, while having exhibited in many venues, have thus far been restricted to spaces that follow the ideology of a 'white cube space'; a space that is neutral, with even, artificial light, smooth walls, usually concrete floors, regularly sized rooms. The Foundation could not be less alike: with its somewhat awkward configuration of rooms, wood-clad walls, uneven stone floors, small windows with the intense Engadiner light streaming in, and narrow staircases giving access to several floors. All this to say that the artists are forced to think in a way that is entirely new to them, considering the exhibition space almost as an artwork in itself, and an alien one at that.
It has been an exciting but challenging curatorial task to make an exhibition of this kind which does not solely demand attention on the basis of the inevitable ‘shock-effect’ of exhibiting contemporary sculpture in a 17th Century house. Finding a balance between the sensitivity and subtlety needed in order for the contemporary art not to be overbearing, while ensuring that the work does not get completely swallowed up by the rich fabric of the house, was complex, and the result is not without imperfections. Yet, ultimately in the context of this other-worldly house the fundamental concerns of the modern sculpture are rejuvenated, and come to the fore more than in a white cube space. That is, the move to abstraction, the use of industrial materials, the rejection of the plinth, the embracing of sketches and maquettes as artworks in their own right. These basics are still ripe with unexplored possibilities and yet they are so often overlooked in a search for the higher intellectual theories that are attached (often uncomfortably) to contemporary art. In YES we can see artists drawing from the traditions set out by modern sculpture, while looking forward and breaking new ground.