Carving in Britain From 1910 to Now

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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This is a deeper, richer show than you would expect from a commercial gallery, and one which avoids anything like a mainstream history of its theme. Sure, some of the usual heavyweight whittlers are present: there's a fantastic early Henry Moore on loan, a nice assortment of Eric Gill pieces and a small Barbara Hepworth at her most austerely rectilinear. But there are also notable omissions from the canon of carving: no Jacob Epstein, no Ben Nicholson.

Instead, the strength of the exhibition is its array of lesser-known artists that sprang from an astonishing explosion in modernist experimentation, including Leon Underwood, for instance, who tutored Moore, and whose cubist, multiplanar head in white marble is an unnerving delight.

Such elemental and primitive forms characterised British sculpture before the advent of metal and plastic assemblages in the 1960s. They arrived mostly in stone or wood, perhaps in the surreal, molten shapes of FE McWilliam's weathered beechwood figures, or in a towering, vaguely robotic bust in burnished willow by Gertrude Hermes (it's noteworthy that a large proportion of the most interesting artists are women).

As for contemporary artists, it's perhaps harder to justify such a seemingly old-fashioned, romantic use of materials, without ending up with the kind of chintzy academicism produced by the likes of Nic Fiddian-Green, whose monumental equestrian sculptures currently disfigure Marble Arch roundabout – he provides a smaller version here.

Still, there are some interesting discoveries – marble trompe l'oeils of wellington boots and folded T-shirts by Andreas Blank and Alexander Seton; and Jessica Harrison's limestone blobs, like scaled-up balls of clay with enlarged fingerprint whorls – where the idea is to reflect, precisely, upon notions of material and manufacturing.



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