In the middle of May I was asked to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at West Bretton to see the first exhibits to be put on show as part of the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International event.
Officially the exhibition runs from 22nd June until 29th September but the Damien Hirst figures are so large that they had to be installed in advance, which also acted as a taster-cum-advert for the other events. The exhibition also has spaces in Wakefield at the Hepworth Gallery, and Leeds, the Henry Moore Institute on the Headrow and the adjoining Leeds Art Gallery. But wait, there is Moore, sorry, more, with pieces in Wakefield City Centre and on Briggate and in the County Arcade in our fair City.
I will begin with the off-site pieces in Leeds, which again have been in situ for a couple of days before the official opening. They are both by Damien Hirst and whilst keeping to the theme of the mechanics and innards of the body, which was the feature of the pieces at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, they highlight his mastery of various materials and his making some of them appear to be other than what they really are. The ‘slap in the face’ piece has been positioned in Briggate and is the six metre high ‘Hymn’ which for all the world looks as though it is made from some form of fibreglass but is in fact a bronze which has been painted. There is absolutely no chance of missing this as you walk along our busiest shopping street and it was quite amusing to watch the faces of the passers-by as they either looked in revulsion or stood to admire the work. Some ignored it altogether and one woman even decided to sit on the plinth to eat her sandwich. I may not know much about art, but I know what I like – BLT!
The second piece in the City Centre is not exactly outdoors, being in the County Arcade, an inspired positioning as it gives the impression that it was meant to be there. Once again it is a partially exposed body of a figure but this time not a human one. ‘Anatomy of an Angel’ is a work in marble and, apart from the way in which the skin has been removed, and its pristine condition, could have been sculpted any time within the past millennium. I found it to be very moving and gave me a feeling of sadness . I didn’t reflect on why this should be as I’m of the opinion that once you begin to analyse works of art they lose their soul and become technical rather than spiritual. Having said that, there was a chunk of marble missing from the plinth which I couldn’t help but wonder whether was intentional in order to expose the innards of the slab of marble, or if there had been some kind of accident in transit.
Damien Hirst is a Marmite artist, so you either love or loathe him, but whatever your view on the pieces themselves you cannot help but to have one: he has come a long way since the days of his painting rows of dots.
If these two pieces have whetted your appetite for more, it is only a short walk to the two galleries where the rest of the Leeds section of the event is taking place. Should you be a stranger to Leeds, then head for the Town Hall. You can’t miss it. Just before you arrive there you will see the Henry Moore Institute on your right hand side and the Leeds Art Gallery, which is next door, although there is a bridge between these buildings on the first floor. There was such a lot happening indoors that I will write a separate piece on those. Rest assured, although there is another Hirst on view, you will not be subjected to any more flayings.