In the early 1960’s, the London arts scene was producing a new kind of sculpture; alive with dynamic structures and vibrant colours, new materials, techniques and ideas, the New Generation was rejecting the plinth and bringing their work down to the human scale of the exhibition space itself. Decades later, Kaleidoscope brings that same attitude to the wonderful Walker Art Gallery, featuring the best of the Arts Council Collection from St. Martins to Leeds and beyond.
Point X, Phillip King 1965. Image Credit: Arts Council Collection, Southbank Center
If, like me, you head through to the largest of the exhibits three rooms and work backwards you’ll be confronted by three works in particular, human scale sculptures which sit in the middle of the floor space. Images of these works really don’t do them justice; Phillip King’s Point X unfolds beautifully, it’s muted brown surface leaving the green edges hanging in space. Anthony Caro’s Slow Movement had my eyes tracing it’s lines differently as I approached it from different angles, while the wide, reflective panels of Tim Scott’s Quinquireme were encompassing. There’s very little in the way of signage or wall text here, and the pieces are allowed to engage the viewers on their own terms- a testament to Caro’s dedication to immediate artwork.
Peter Sedgley’s Suspense, a subtle illusion of dimming spots which bulge slightly off the canvas and shimmer as you stare at them, comes in close second for my favourite painting of the exhibition. Another honorable mention is Jeremy Moon’s Cape Red, which plays with canvas positioning and composition to give the impression of being constantly in a delicate but perfect balance.First place must go to Bridget Riley’s Cataract 3, a crazy sand dune waterfall of black and white lines that ribbon across the canvas. No sooner had I laid eyes on the piece than it began to strobe and morph, an intense effect of the tightly packed geometry. Anyone who visits Kaleidoscope should spend at least five minutes with their eyes locked to Cataract 3 and see what strange colors and shapes it generates. Bethan Lewis, the project curator for Kaleidoscope called it an “interesting visual experience”- an understatement if you ask me.
Zikkurat 7, Joe Tilson 1967. Image Credit: Arts Council Collection Southbank Center
Bethan, when pressed for her favorite piece, pointed me towards Kim Lim’s Candy, praising it for it’s directional energy and unassuming but dynamic nature- a sculpture on the human scale and a great opportunity to get enthused about women in British art. In the same room, Bernard Schottlander’s Auto Ditto is a dark totem, a spatially economical mechanical object in dark brown that exudes, for me, brooding emotion.
Joe Tilson’s Zikkurat 7 is also a must-see and possibly my favourite; I just love the way it apes Mesoamerican architecture with lines of bright colour like a Ziggurat shaped jawbreaker.
While I absolutely could go on about every artwork in the exhibition, as they all have a lot to say, I’ll finish on the curious object known as heap 4, a pile of colourful sandbags originally heaped by Barry Flanagan in 1967. While many of the works in Kaleidoscope feature sequences, here the repetition is in the action of laying the bags on top of each other, with gravity dictating the final form. It’s likely to provoke a few “I could’ve done that” reactions but if you leave a modern art exhibition without having your definition of art challenged, you’ve probably missed out on something.
heap 4, Barry Flanagan 1967. Image Credit: Arts Council Collection
In all Kaleidoscope is a bold assortment of acrylic colour and lively shapes; much of the artwork seems to move or wait in potential, to have a balance and order as well as an aesthetically beautiful flow. It’s great for art neophytes (like myself) who can soak in the pleasing art objects as well as the culture buffs who will enjoy this snapshot of a transformative period in British art.
Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art runs until the 3rd of June; if you needed any more reason to visit the Walker this spring, you’ve got it.