The exhibition Sculpture in the Home that opened yesterday at Pangolin London is inspired by the series of travelling exhibitions that were organised by the Arts Council of England during the 1940s and 1950s, and the former show with the same name, organised by the Artists International Association in 1945 at Heal’s Mansard Gallery in London. The initiative of promoting sculpture within the domestic setting, as opposed to the gallery or public space environment, launched by these events in the mid-twentieth Century, have already been object of interest in recent times. For instance, in 2008 the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds presented a similar remake with title Sculpture in the Home: Restaging a post-war initiative.
These series of shows which, as Tanya Harrod noted (article “Sculpture in the Home”, Burlington Magazine No.1269 VOL.CL in 2008), dates back to the room settings organised by the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, has definitely received attention due to the recent revival of mid-century furniture design and the interest in post-war art practice in Britain. In addition, by now Sculpture in the Home has become a recurrent theme of research, both in the history of showcasing sculpture and as a milestone of the modern exhibition. Additionally, if sculpture consists of the material works that traditionally go under that name and also of all those elements that make it happen from drawings to the architectural setting it belongs to, the theme of showcasing sculpture in the domestic interior is certainly an important part and stage of the history of sculpture in general.
The exhibition currently restaged at Pangolin London – a gallery solely dedicated to exhibiting sculpture – features some of the artists presented in the original series organised by the Arts Council such as Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke and Bernard Meadows. The gallery has also partnered with Ernest Race Furniture, one of the leaders of Britain’s post-war furniture designers (the show features pieces like the Antelope chair, DA armchair, BA table and BA3 chair). Other partners of the show include: Sanderson, Amelia Mc Neil, Carter Wells, Mourne Textiles, and Twentytwentyone.
The series that the exhibition takes its inspiration from was aimed at promoting small-scale sculpture within the domestic environment for selling and private collecting purposes (like painting, sculpture was presented as essential part of the interior design and everyday life). The 1940s-50s series was, at the same time, perpetrating the modernist discourse around the integration between fine arts and design started in Britain with the Arts and Crafts.
Rather than enacting the modernist thesis or re-launching the art market, the show at Pangolin succeeds in revealing the interesting similarities in style, character and approach that, in those years, furniture design and sculpture shared such as the use of metal instead of wood and the “spikiness” look of these objects. For instance, characteristics of these mainly figurative sculptures are resembled in the style of the furniture elements (due to the scarcity of wood in post-war Britain, components like legs and arms of armchairs, sofas, etc. where realised in metal and soon the material became of aesthetic inspiration in design).
The show also highlights other similarities between design and sculpture of those years; for instance, how the interest in the interior in the post-war period was an expression of a return towards humanistic values, such as the family. In fact, both the home environment and the figurative approach to sculpture of the works displayed are reminders of those values; the latter are also stated literally in the anthropomorphic look of the figures of Lynn Chadwick and of the Gazelle table and chairs.
Sculpture in the Home at Pangolin is certainly an interesting occasion of reflection on the history of showcasing sculpture. It is more than a remake of an interesting exhibition theme; it provides the terrain for innovative historical readings and research about the boundaries between fine arts and design, sculpture and architecture, public and private space. In addition, it inspires reflections on how each of these fields and categories influences the other and affects out visual culture.
How does showcasing sculpture in a different setting, like the domestic interior, shape our visual culture and view of sculpture itself?