Dialectical Materialism

British Sculpture since the 1960s

Dialectical Materialism: Aspects of British Sculpture Since the 1960s, conceived by Karsten Schubert, is a bold, subtle and imaginative intervention into this complex subject, reconsidering its terrain through a small selection of artists and objects. In doing so, it focuses on objects more than contexts, on the art work not the art school.

The title has two parts. The first part: Dialectical Materialism, a much debated term drawn from Hegel and Marxist political philosophy, is deployed here to point to the dynamic and generative forces of opposition and reaction that have charged and driven the making of much sculpture in Britain since the post-war years.

In the essay that follows, Jonathan Vernon looks into the potential of this concept in relation to the developing treatment of material, space and object-hood found in British sculpture since 1960.

The second part: Aspects of British Sculpture, is drawn from Herbert Read’s introduction to the catalogue of British Pavilion for the XXVI Venice Biennale in 1952. In this text, (which championed the work of Lynn Chadwick, Eduardo Paolozzi, and Henry Moore among others),  Read coined the phrase the ‘Geometry of Fear’ to evoke these artists’ curious crab-like sculptures which he imagined ‘scuttling across the floors of silent seas’.

A compelling phrase, Surrealist in spirit and existentialist in outlook, it captured the mood of the moment, pointing to a poetics of paradox and contradiction. ‘Geometry’ – order, reason and beauty, is paired with ‘Fear’ – the forces of chaos, anxiety and doubt.

The exhibition takes up the potentialities of juxtapositions such as this, exploring pairings and dialogues, and celebrating the creative and highly productive tensions that can lie both within and between sculptures and sculptors in this period.

Including the work of six sculptors: William Turnbull (1922-2012), Anthony Caro (1924-2013), Barry Flanagan (1941-2004), Richard Long (b. 1945), Alison Wilding (b. 1948) and Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963). Each of them are represented both by large and smaller works.

Published on the occasion of the exhibition, Aspects of British Sculpture at Park Village Studios, 1 Park Village East, London NW1 (28 September – 6 October 2019).

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