Summer Symposium Highlights

Two days of sunshine and sculpture greeted delegates of this year’s annual Summer Symposium (Re-)Forming Sculpture which returned to West Yorkshire for the first time since 2010. The two-day conference for current doctoral and early career research took place at The Hepworth Wakefield and University of Leeds at the end of June. It looked to re-consider the boundaries and hierarchies of sculpture within art history and unite the academic and curatorial disciplines of sculpture studies. Papers embraced sculpture in its widest remits, from the classical to the present day, from Yorkshire to South Korea, and from the postcard to the natural history specimen. Speakers included art historians, classicists, curators, artists and museum professionals.

We were delighted to host two keynote speakers, Martina Droth (Yale Center for British Art) and Rebecca Wade, (Leeds Museums and Galleries, based at the Henry Moore Institute).

This was the first time Summer Symposium had been held jointly between a university and a museum institution, and also the first time that we’ve held an event at The Hepworth Wakefield. The symposium aimed to broaden how sculpture is understood, as well as to reflect upon the significance of its place within the Yorkshire region. These were questions dealt with in day one at The Hepworth Wakefield  in the first two panels ‘Curating the Sculptural Display’ and ’Rethinking the Monument’,  which interrogated both contexts of display and the role of sculpture within museological  and public settings.

After enjoying the wonderful weather over lunch in The Hepworth’s stunning riverside location, the conference reconvened with afternoon sessions bringing focus directly to Yorkshire. The third session, ‘Yorkshire: Sculpting a Legacy’ offered new critical approaches to some of the region’s most iconic sculpture, as well as examining the problems beset for both the production and teaching of sculpture within Yorkshire.

Delegates were able to enjoy tours of both the permanent collection at The Hepworth, and of the current exhibition Lee Miller and British Surrealism during the afternoon break, before ending with a keynote address from Rebecca Wade, which wove together many of the day’s themes to examine the early origins of the Leeds sculpture collection. Rebecca kindly led a tour of the Leeds Art Gallery at the opening of day two, in which delegates were able to engage with many of the works talked about in the first keynote, as well as to visit the current exhibition The Sculpture Collections.

Day two took place at the University of Leeds. Key issues for the second day were fittingly opened through the keynote address from Martina Droth, in which she drew upon her recent research for the exhibition Sculpture Victorious (Tate Britain and YCBA 2014-2015) to question the divide between sculpture and the decorative in the 19th century and the need to establish an expanded field of production during this period.

Martina’s keynote was followed by the ‘Sculpting Ceramics’ session, which explored the specific role of ceramics within sculptural discourse, including a paper from artist Phoebe Cummings, who produces ephemeral works of temporary ceramic sculpture.

The two concluding panels of the day, ‘Sculptural Ways of Looking’ and ‘Sculpture Across Borders’, opened up discussion of sculpture’s relationships with other art forms, including architecture, performance and film, as well as questioning how artefacts not traditionally considered as sculpture might change in interpretation if read through a sculptural framework.

The 2018 Summer Symposium provided an exciting platform for sharing current doctoral and early career research, and was the perfect event for the official launch of the Association’s new Doctoral and Early Career Research Network (DECR Network). Clear connections between sessions and papers emerged across both days and we are now entering conversations regarding continuing the ‘re-forming’ theme through a publication or journal special issue.

(Re-)Forming Sculpture was organised by the Association for Art History’s DECR Network project board. The 2018 organisers were Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth (University of Leeds) and Clare Nadal (University of Huddersfield/ The Hepworth Wakefield). The event was kindly supported by The Hepworth Wakefield, the University of Leeds, the Henry Moore Foundation and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

Written by Clare Nadal. Photographer Laura Mateescu.