“I wondered at such an active and diverse life,” explained Yorkshire-born collage artist Stephen Sutcliffe about Herbert Read, the subject of a new exhibition at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery. Guest-curated by Sutcliffe alongside arts organisation Pavilion, the exhibition features over 165 items from Read’s personal archive and library.

From humble beginnings as the son of a farmer, Read profoundly affected the British art scene from the 1930s to the 1960s, eventually co-founding the Institute of Contemporary Arts. A student of the University of Leeds in his youth, Read’s studies were cut short when he went to fight in the First World War in 1915. Read left the military in 1918 as a decorated soldier but now a committed pacifist, and published poet.

Herbert Read
Installation shot of Art in an Electric Atmosphere: the Library and Archive of Herbert Read. Image credit University of Leeds

Despite regarding himself as an anarchist, he accepted a knighthood in 1953. Art in an Electric Atmosphere: The Library and Archive of Herbert Read has been put together with a collagist’s sensibility to reflect the contradictory life of the man himself.

Co-curator, and artist, Stephen Sutcliffe said:

“I have a fascination with biography, especially texts on contradictory characters. Read was an anarchist and a knight of the realm. He came from farming stock to become one of the most revered cultural commentators of his day.”

Using Read’s own collection, the exhibition gives a unique glimpse into the private life of this multi-talented man. On display is everything from the mundane, such as a 1964 receipt for a domestic dishwasher, to the extraordinary, like a postcard sent to Read by Pablo Picasso.

A strong thread throughout Read’s life is the connections he made. Many of Read’s close friends, allies and collaborators are represented in the exhibition through photographs, letters and ephemera, including T.S. Eliot, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Peggy Guggenheim, and more.

Naum Gabo, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth at the Herbert Read memorial presentation, 1970
Naum Gabo, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth at the Herbert Read Memorial exhibition at the Tate Gallery 1970. Leeds University Library Special Collections BC MS 20c Herbert Read/61

Central to the exhibition is a new projected video work by Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe’s video is based on the covers of Anarchy, a monthly journal published in Britain throughout the 1960s which Read collected and occasionally contributed to.

Join us at the exhibition launch celebration evening Thursday 19th September 6-8pm for a free talk, viewing and refreshments. We will be joined by co-curator Stephen Sutcliffe for an exclusive in conversation with William Fowler, Curator of Artists’ Moving image at BFI National Archive.

Art in an Electric Atmosphere: The Library and Archive of Herbert Read, is open now at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery and runs until 1 August, 2020. Entry is free.

Monday: 1 – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm