The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery has been awarded a £50,000 share of HEFCE funding for HE museums and galleries which make a significant contribution to research and scholarship.
The HEFCE funding was agreed following an independent review by experts from the museum and higher education sectors, chaired by Diane Lees CBE, Director-General of the Imperial War Museums.
The application process was highly competitive, and the panel noted the outstanding quality and compelling evidence provided in the submissions.
Diane Lees said: “As a panel, we found a truly inspiring array of case studies which demonstrated the range of research that university museums, galleries and collections carry out. The total funding requested exceeded the total funding available, and the quality of the submissions did not make this an easy process.”
University Librarian Stella Butler said: “We are delighted to be receiving HEFCE funding. This support will enable us to share our wonderful collections with communities and individuals beyond the campus. Academic colleagues work with us to prepare our exhibitions and events enriching the cultural landscape of Leeds and West Yorkshire.”
The Gallery, which is open to the public, hosts both the University’s exceptional art collection and innovative temporary exhibitions. Past exhibitions have included a major retrospective of Maurice de Sauzmarez’s work, opened by his former student Sir James Dyson, and a yearly exhibition that showcases the work of the top students from the University’s School of Design and School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.
The Gallery also cares for the University’s successful Public Art programme, which includes the recent loan of Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Dual Form’ and the re-instatement of Hubert Dalwood’s ‘Untitled Bas-Relief’.
The events programme takes inspiration from the art collection and exhibition on display, previous events have included guest lectures, artist workshops and regional and national events such as Light Night and Museums at Night.
Student Ellen Brown, who is involved with the Public Art Project, reflects on the success of the Public Art Workshop that took place last month.
On Thursday 27 March 2016, we gathered in the Worsley Building at the University of Leeds for our second Public Art Workshop and were pleased to welcome colleagues from De Montfort, Loughborough, Warwick and York Universities, as well as Leeds City Council, sculptors and staff and students to a lively afternoon of discussion. It was a great opportunity for us to all meet up again after the successful summer symposium last June.
The event kicked off with a beautiful reading by Linda France of her new poem ‘Man-Made Fibres’. Professor Ann Sumner then reviewed the first year of the Public Art Project at the University of Leeds, outlining the Place-making theme of 2015 with the unveiling of the Simon Fujiwara sculpture and the launch of the new Public Art Trail. Ann went on to explain how the theme for campus in 2016 is Textiles, celebrating the rich history of the subject on campus and beyond. She has been the lead on a ‘Grants for the Arts’ Arts Council application which has just been submitted and had two spearheads, innovative commissioning and audience development through wide community engagement. A key aim is to boost the involvement of early career artists, in addition to working with established artists, commissioning innovative temporary interventions in knit and weave traditions across campus and beyond. A series of workshops with the themes ‘Knit & Lit’, ‘The Poet as Weaver’ and ‘History Threads’ will reflect new research at the University and engage with campus audiences and beyond in the towns and villages of the region with textile histories linking in with the Festival of Wool at Armley and the Trouser Town festival at Hebden Bridge. The workshops will create hand knitted community canopies which will be installed across campus over the summer, transforming campus spaces and attracting visitors.
We then heard an excellent presentation from Dr Sarah Shalgosky of the University of Warwick about the approach to public art and spaces at Warwick from the very beginning of the University’s formation in the 1960s up until the present day. She explained how the modernist architecture of Warwick was complemented by the acquisition of many artworks around the campus, none of which were labelled. She considered that the buildings at Warwick, ‘symbols of an egalitarian society’, were not initially much loved by staff and students; since then, the University has adopted a more informal, domestic atmosphere. Sarah argued that this has been achieved through the purchase of what is now 900 pieces of public art objects, which have been used to widen participation and create a pleasant environment. The informal approach to art at the University of Warwick was highlighted by a story Sarah told, where an anonymous student relabelled interpretative panels on campus art, in turn provoking questions such as – why is the artwork here? Sarah emphasised the importance of art on campus as a means of triggering free discussion. She concluded her talk by arguing that the campus should be seen as an open text. This stimulates the discussion of important ideas, which manifest themselves through public art on campus.
After a short question and answer session, chaired by Dr Martin Zebracki of the Department of Geography, who has recently edited the recently published Everyday Practice of Public Art: Art Space and Social Inclusion (Routledge 2016), we heard a reading of the poem ‘A Spire’ by Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow, Helen Mort. Helen was inspired by our new Fujiwara sculpture outside the Laidlaw Library. Participants were then given four aspects to discuss for the Mapping the Campus consultation: navigation; identifying the sculptures; knowledge transfer; and engaging our audiences. The responses showed that whilst the public art map has been well received, the campus itself is still difficult to navigate. However, on a more positive note, the map and the interpretative panels have helped with identifying sculptures. The Public Art Project’s engagement with poetry proved popular, and participants were eager to see a wider range of disciplines getting involved with art on campus in future. There were several suggestions for a variety of trails that could be developed, including one focused on fitness and wellbeing, and another using campus art as a means of creative storytelling. In terms of engaging our audiences, it was highlighted that more can be done to encourage staff and students, on their lunch breaks, to get involved with art on campus. Liaising with the City Council had resulted in the British Art Show 8 map including campus sculpture, producing a coherent Leeds offer for visitors.
A panel discussion, reflecting on the points raised during the workshop, concluded our afternoon. It was agreed that more needs to be done to overcome the potentiality of ‘barriers’ stopping visitors from coming onto university campus environments. The different approaches would be further explored in a new Specialist Subject Network. Dr Stella Butler, the University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection, closed the workshop by offering her thanks to everyone who attended, and emphasised once again the rich potential for public art on campus at the University of Leeds.
With the new appointment of Public Art Project Officer Ann Sumner, we begin a new series of monthly posts highlighting the sculptural treasures which await discovery on the University of Leeds campus.
‘Sculpture must again be made accessible’ wrote the extraordinary American sculptor Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe in 1950 in Sculpture for Architecture. ‘Sculpture withers now in the hot house of galleries and museums for temporary exhibits, catering to a faceless feeble audience of dilettantes and critics,’ she continues. Cunliffe wanted to see sculpture ‘taken for granted by people as part of the natural environment, the stuff of life’.
It is certainly true to say that many students and staff here at the University of Leeds, as well as visitors onto campus, may overlook her important sculpture Man Made Fibres, for it is situated so high over the entrance on the side of the Clothworkers’ Building South. The University’s new Public Art Strategy is currently being finalised and in a new approach to curating the unique campus at Leeds, the sculpture will however be highlighted and fully interpreted over the next few years along with the other sculptures situated on campus. The University’s public art collection is under the care of The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery which will be featuring a monthly focus on public art in its e-newsletter and blog and through its social media channels. Each month going forward, a member of staff from the University will explain why a key artwork on campus has special meaning for them. Cunliffe’s piece is the first to be selected. This work is particularly appropriate for the month of February as Cunliffe is best known for her design of the famous theatrical mask, the BAFTA award, which she designed during the same period in which she was commissioned to sculpt Man Made Fibres.
Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe (1918 – 2006) was born in New York and attended the Art Students League of New York from 1930 – 1933 before studying fine art at Columbia University from 1935 – 40. She moved to Paris where she attended the Academie Cobrossi for a year before continuing her studies in Sweden. Her early works were greatly admired by Le Courbusier. In 1949, Cunliffe came to England where she married a British academic and moved to Manchester where her new husband taught at the University. Her first large scale public artworks were commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951, on London’s South Bank. She was amongst 15 painters and sculptors that produced new work for facades and interiors, six of whom were women. Her most significant piece was Root Bodied Forth, an 8ft concrete group. She also designed a pair of Push and Pull door handles for the Regatta Restaurant. In 1952 she created The Quickening which is now at the School of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool and probably her best known commission was a pierced screen for John Lewis’s Department store, also in Liverpool. Her work from this period displays huge optimism about the possibilities of working during a period of reconstruction.
It was in 1955 that she was commissioned to create the now infamous bronze awards for the Guild of Television Producers and Directors; the same year in which she was commissioned to create the work at Leeds University. During the 1960s, Cunliffe turned from creating individual pieces towards mass production with more abstract deigns for casting in concrete. These she described as Sculpture by the Yard, the title of an exhibition which toured widely in Britain and abroad. Her last major commission was 4 panels for the Scottish Life House in London (completed 1970/demolished 2007, panels preserved). The effort involved in creating this work using heavy power tools and working to a strict deadline, was crippling for her physically. Coming just a year after her divorce, it was to be her last work before a career change, turning to teaching, first at Thomas Polytechnic (now South Bank University) and later in New York, Philadelphia and Montreal. She wrote regularly on sculpture and architecture, for instance ‘The Possibilities of University Architecture’ in Architecture and Building, 1959. In later life, living in Oxford, Cunliffe fell victim to Alzheimer’s. She last exhibited in 2001 at Oxford Brookes University in an exhibition for Alzheimer’s sufferers entitled Look Closer – See Me. In 1999, a Travelling Scholarship in her name was established at the Ruskin School of Drawing at the University of Oxford.
In July 1955, having been in discussion with the sculptor for six months beforehand, the University of Leeds commissioned Cunliffe to commission a new sculptural work for the Clothworkers’ South Building (then called the Man Made Fibres building.) Preparatory drawings were submitted in August 1955 and materials agreed by the end of the year, with the Portland stone and turntable required for making, being delivered to her Didsbury studio just before Christmas of the same year. Cunliffe recalls that she started the sculpture on 13 February 1956, having completed all the preparatory maquettes. She worked on the piece for five months and it was installed and unveiled to the public in the summer of 1956. A fee of £2,450 was paid to her by the University. Press interest during the project came from the Manchester Guardian and the London Evening Standard. During her time working on the commission, Cunliffe developed a close working relationship with Professor J B Speakman of the Department of Textile Industries and a large correspondence between the two survives, alongside documentary photographs which are now held in the archive of The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery.
The commission coincided with the production of Cunliffe’s most famous work, the design for the awards for the Guild of Television Producers & Directors (what we now know as the BAFTAs). On Oct 12 1955, she wrote to Prof Speakman that she was ‘enclosing some photos of the tiny 7 inch trophy I have designed for the Guild of Television Producers and Directors, six bronze casts of which were awarded on 10 October. The picture of me is included only to show you the inside-out of the mask, plus the preliminary drawings’. She also inquires as to whether a further commission for a mural is to be progressed or ‘has it died a death’? Cunliffe remained engaged with the University of Leeds, maintaining her friendship with the Professor, loaning a bronze maquette in 1961 and recording that in the late 1950s when she was in Leeds she visited the campus at night to see how the piece was weathering. To mark 60 years since the commission, a related display about the commission and this fascinating female artist is scheduled for 2016.