STUART BRISLEY, Nul Comma Nul, 1984, Tate

Janet Anderson

Nul Comma Nul, 1984

Mixed Media Sculpture


Modern British Sculpture, Royal Academy of Arts


2011 will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the last exhibition to examine British sculpture of the twentieth century.   British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century was staged at the Whitechapel Art Gallery twenty years before the century had even ended, and it is even longer since the Royal Academy last devoted its Main Galleries exclusively to a survey exhibition of sculpture, British Sculptors ‘72.   


The Royal Academy has invited Penelope Curtis, Director of Tate Britain, and the sculptor Keith Wilson, to curate an exhibition tackling the topic of British sculpture.  The show will explore both what is British, and what is sculpture, bringing the two together in a series of strongly themed galleries, essentially ordered chronologically, each making its own visual argument.  


Since Henry Moore took the first post-war Venice Biennale by storm, Britain has had a reputation for sculpture.  The exhibition will look at British sculpture’s dialogue within a broader international context and at the ways in which Britain’s links with its Empire, continental Europe and the United States, have all helped shape an art which at its best is truly international. 


This story is told by the sculptures themselves. In one sequence of interconnected spaces you will take in floor pieces by Richard Long and Carl Andre, Edwin Lutyens’ Cenotaph, an Easter Island statue and Jacob Epstein; in another you will see from Gilbert’s Queen Victoria and Phillip King’s Genghis Khan to Anthony Caro through Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Victor Pasmore. Most importantly the exhibition examines the dialogue between the sculptures themselves thereby inviting visitors to pay fresh attention to many of the major works of the century. This combination of close scrutiny and comparison - where the eye is free to make connections across time and place - will bring all the works up to the present within the RA’s magnificent galleries. 


Drawing on a wide range of material, including ethnographic and decorative objects, the selection will also highlight the choices constantly faced by the sculptor: to make work which is more or less figurative, or more or less abstract; which deals with sculpture’s representative or commemorative role, or avoids it.  Key juxtapositions will exemplify these choices. 


Working with Adrian Locke of the Royal Academy, the curators will seek to demonstrate why, for over 100 years, London and its museums have had such appeal for sculptors, and how the Academy itself has helped shape an art that is less insular than is often supposed.  


On view from 22 January – 7 April 2011


Royal Academy of the Arts, London
Burlington House
London W1J 0BD