The most influential art exhibition in the UK has arrived at Leeds Art Gallery, showcasing the work of a new generation. Yvette Huddleston reports.
Last week the British Art Show 8 (BAS8) opened at Leeds Art Gallery – and it is a major coup for the gallery, and the city, as it is recognised as being the most ambitious and influential exhibition of contemporary British art. It is the largest touring exhibition in the UK – the last show in 2010/11 attracted more than 420,000 visitors – and is organised every five years by Hayward Touring. Leeds Art Gallery is the launch venue and the exhibition will then go on tour to Edinburgh, Norwich and Southampton.
“The reason the British Art Show is so significant is that because it is a touring exhibition it gives those artists selected by the curators unprecedented exposure,” says Sarah Brown, Head of Collections at Leeds Art Gallery. “It can make artists become household names and the reason it only takes place every five years is that it aims to capture a generation of young British artists – which it has done since 1979 when it was first established.” There are 42 artists presenting their work in the exhibition, many of the pieces being seen in the UK for the first time, and 26 artists have made new artworks especially for the show.
The work includes paintings, sculpture, film installation, ceramics, textiles, multi-media and live art performance.
“It will be a really rich experience for visitors,” says Brown. “They will be seeing something that’s unique. A lot of the work – such as the performance pieces – is not work that can be easily replicated. You have to come to the gallery to experience it. It won’t ever be configured in the same way again and that’s really exciting.”
The show has been put together by two guest curators – Lydia Yee of the Whitechapel Gallery in London and freelance curator Anna Colin – appointed by Hayward Touring and the host galleries. “They have done a fantastic job,” says Brown. “They spent a year visiting artists in their studio, seeing shows and drawing up a list of artists that they felt were representative of this particular moment. They have also been looking at themes that have emerged – the tension between the virtual and the real and the resurgence of the use of media that have traditionally been associated with folk art and crafts. They have brought together such a wide range of artists and work.”
Highlights include a major new commission by acclaimed Italian designer Martino Gamper, Post Forma, which developed out of Gamper’s interest in how objects can be transformed and reused, rather than discarded. The artist collaborated closely on the project with Yorkshire artisans transforming broken objects into unique pieces of craft. Linder Sterling’s new work – a textile sculptural rug entitled Diagrams of Love: Marriage of Eyes – will be activated by a ballet choreographed and performed by Northern Ballet dancers in November while Caroline Chaintre’s colourful, hand-tufted textile wall-hanging Mother George has a tactile presence and distinctive folk art feel.
Other pieces will evolve during the exhibition such as Stuart Whipps’ AMR 733V for which he is collaborating with former workers at the Longbridge car plant in Birmingham. Together they will gradually restore a Mini built in 1979, a pivotal time in British politics and industry.
Brown was keen that the galleries should look their very best for the occasion and work has been ongoing over the past year to repaint, replace some electrics and install improved lighting.
Always a great champion of Leeds Art Gallery, Brown is mindful of the importance of the exhibition and what it could mean for the city in the future. “I feel the potential of the gallery is phenomenal,” she says. “Visual art is such a significant component of the vibrant cultural programme in the city of Leeds and with its bid to be named European Capital of Culture in 2023, this is an opportunity to really showcase that.”
British Art Show 8, Leeds Art Gallery to January 10. Free entry.