Art | Polychromies – Surface, Light and Colour

2/3 Stars

As the Leeds Art Gallery states: “sculpture has often been considered in opposition to painting”. This is the motivation behind new exhibition Polychromies, which showcases a diverse collection of artists’ works in both sculpture and painting.

Spanning over three centuries, the works are juxtaposed across three rooms in the newly refurbished sculpture galleries, all thanks to an Arts Council Renaissance National Programme grant. As the name suggests, surface, light and colour dictate the curation of the pieces and to great effect. Room one holds ‘Venus’ by Antonia Canova, installed in all of its wondrous marble beauty before a perfect Farrow & Ball dark red wall. This wall exists not only decoratively but to reflect an almost skin coloured tone onto Venus, echoing the way Canova used to present her, with washes of colour over her perfectly smooth form.

In close proximity, the second room has various angular and colourful pieces by William Tucker, Gregory Fellow in the University of Leeds Fine Arts department 1968-70. Still in the realms of sculpture but centuries after Venus, Tucker’s work is concerned with the use of geometry to create surface, line and employ fields of colour to accentuate form. Alongside this, still in view of Venus, is an imposing wall piece by Richard Smith which stands steadily on the fence between painting and sculpture. Smith’s 1969 painting has objects placed underneath the canvas to distort the flat painting surface into a more sculptural landscape. Paint is applied liberally here and is part of a number of paintings of the same virtue.

Room three is perhaps where the viewer may be a little lost. The parallels drawn by the curators perhaps go over the heads of the audience and it seems straws have been clutched at by the curators. While attempting to keep the exhibition diverse, the link between some of the pieces is so tenuous it disengages the public. It is a pity that for a show which held so much promise at first glance, as it heads downstairs into the third room there is most certainly nothing to hang around for.

A film made by Jennifer West would be a fantastic piece outside of this exhibition but in this room its presence is perplexing and frustrating, not helped by the frivolous Georgian wax carvings around it. In essence the strength of the exhibition is in its first two rooms; the links are strong and yet the work still has the ability open the viewer’s mind to what sculpture has come to be perceived in our modern western world. The third room had the potential to move the viewer even further forwards in time, however this all falls flat. An unequivocal shame.

Emma Bakel

Image: George Meyrick

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