Interesting Times for art

The University of Leicester’s Sculpture in the Garden exhibition 2012 offers gutsy, large- scale modern art – often with ‘a wicked sense of humour’

Almuth Tebbenhof
Almuth Tebbenhof at work.

The University’s annual Sculpture in the Garden event takes a new twist this year. Curating for the first time, the well-known sculptor Almuth Tebbenhoff aims to encourage debate with an exhibition of thought provoking, large-scale sculpture, entitled ‘Interesting Times’.

Tebbenhoff cut her teeth at Leicester by showing work at two previous Sculpture in the Garden exhibitions – first in 2005 and again in 2007. Then, in 2008, she was commissioned to make a sculpture for the David Wilson University Library. Now, as curator of ‘Interesting Times’, she says: “I want to bring beauty together with darker and gutsy elements. Some of the artists’ work I’ve chosen shows a wicked sense of humour.”

For example, the sculptor Nick Turvey – who has won awards from the Arts Council of England and the Royal British Society of Sculptors – is bringing sinister garden sheds omitting strange sounds and smells. “They are ominous and slightly destabilising but the humour defuses them".

Tebbenhoff adds: “I’m using the botanical garden as it was designed to be used; as a laboratory for experiments. People enjoy the romantic aspect of a garden, but I want to balance that to show that nature can be cruel and unpredictable at the same time.”

Nineteen artists have been carefully selected for this year’s show. Big names include William Tucker, who received a Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture award in 2010; Katherine Gili, who has exhibited at The Serpentine Gallery, The Tate and the Hayward in London; Eilis O'Connell, a member of the Irish artists’ affiliation, Aosdana; David Worthington, the Vice-President of the Royal British Society of Sculptors; and Sean Henry, who has recent had solo exhibitions in Salisbury, New York and Stockholm. For ‘Interesting Times’, Henry is showing his larger than life-size ‘Floating Man’.

What nearly all the exhibiting artists have in common is that they work on a big scale. Many are female. “Larger sculpture tends to come from men, but there are some wonderfully strong women sculptors making big pieces”, Tebbenhoff says. Among them is Ann Christopher, a multi award-winning sculptor who is both a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and an elected Member of the Royal Academy. Christopher’s tall abstract pieces are defined by what Tebbenhoff calls “beautifully balanced sharp edges”.

Further high-profile female sculptors include Mary Bourne, whose granite bulbs emerge out of the ground like upended mines; Brigitte Jurack, whose ceramic pie chart makes a statement about the distribution of wealth; and Halima Cassell, who carves patterns influenced by Islamic designs into clay and marble. “These artists say it straight. There is a life-affirming directness in their work.”

Tebbenhoff herself has 35 years’ experience as a sculptor. She is an elected Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, and has exhibited all over the world. In 2003, she was shortlisted for the Battle of Britain Memorial in Central London, and in 2009, she was commissioned to produce a sculpture for the BFI London Film Festival awards. ‘Interesting Times’ is her first foray into curating.

“It’s personal”, she says. “I’m bringing together pieces I like, so I’m exposing my taste.”

'Interesting Times' runs from Sunday 1st July to Sunday 28th October 2012 at the Harold Martin Botanic Garden in Oadby. The visitor entrance is on Glebe Road, LE2 2LD. The garden is open seven days a week, 10.00am to 4.00pm. Entry is free, except on special event days. The paths are suitable for wheelchairs and there are disabled-access  toilets.

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