Sculptural Forms: A Century of Experiment

 Barbara Hepworth, Sphere with Inner Form, 1963

Claire Malet, Ridged Vessel, 2014, steel, 23 ct red gold, copper,

Stephen Dixon, Liu Xiaobo, 2012

  • Saturday 15 February 2014 - Sunday 7 September 2014
  • Manchester Art Gallery
  • FREE

During the last century sculpture has become more difficult to define than any other art form. The concept of sculpture as static and three-dimensional has been challenged and the boundaries between sculpture, craft and design have become less distinct.

This exhibition explores some of the imaginative ways in which the sculptural form has been re-invented from just before World War One to the present day. It does so by combining sculpture with two-dimensional works of art and designed objects to create some unexpected but visually stunning juxtapositions.

Sculptural Forms is mainly drawn from the gallery’s own collection and those of two of our partners: Whitworth Art Gallery and the Arts Council Collection. It's an opportunity to see major pieces from the Whitworth while it's closed for refurbishment, including works by Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Paolozzi. We will also be showing two new acquisitions: Rocking Chair No 4 by Henry Moore, 1950, and Ridged Vessel by Claire Malet, 2014.

The exhibition is arranged in three sections - the Human Condition, Abstraction and Transformation.

The Human Condition

The Human Condition shows the impact of war and developments in the understanding of the human psyche on figurative sculpture. Even if the sitter can be identified, these are not purely studies in likeness but attempts to convey intangible states of being including the heroic, maternal and spiritual, or emotions such as anxiety and sadness. Some of the sculptures push the boundaries of the representational showing the influence of modernism and surrealism. The sculptors represented include Eric Gill, Jacob Epstein and Tony Oursler.


The next section presents two contrasting approaches to abstraction: the mathematical and scientific, the intuitive and organic. Anthony Caro, Michael Challenger and Michael Rowe explore the relationship between planes and angles. The curved forms created by Barbara Hepworth, Ron Arad and Alison Wearing express simultaneously the harmony and tension between mass and void, outer and inner surfaces.


Since the early 1900s, artists have used pre-existing objects as both subject and material. The final section, Transformation, includes playful pieces by Sarah Lucas, Bill Woodrow and Philippe Starck alongside more serious work by Lynn Chadwick and Rachel Whiteread. Sometimes the original function of the object is crucial to the meaning of its new incarnation. In other instances, the choice of object is purely formal: the artist exploits the suggestive power of shape, colour and detail.

Sculptural Forms will be the inspiration for art activities designed for families with young children in the adjacent gallery, the Clore Art Studio. The concept has been devised in conjunction with artist Sarah Bridgland whose work in paper combines sculpture with collage.

Barbara Hepworth Sphere with Inner Form 1963
On loan from Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester
Photograph © Bowness, Hepworth Estate

Claire Malet, Ridged Vessel, 2014,
Steel, 23 ct red gold, copper
Photograph © Anthony Evans

Stephen Dixon Liu Xiaobo 2012
Transfer-printed earthenware, epoxy resin, tile adhesive
On loan from Stephen Dixon
Photograph © Tony Richards

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