Sculpture formed a significant part of the 2014 National Curriculum for art. Making It: Sculpture in Britain 1977–1986 is therefore an important exhibition for teachers and learners, all the more so because it focuses particularly on ways of making and the possibilities offered by different materials and processes.
The exhibition comprises sculptures by forty four different artists, selected from the Arts Council Collection and augmented with major loans from important UK public and private collections. Many are by well-known artists, including examples from when they were beginning their careers or at transitional stages. The largest piece is over four metres long, but there are others which (in terms of sculpture) are small and intimate in nature. A strong theme of the exhibition is the crafting process, including the transformation of found objects and everyday materials. The exhibition includes works cast and carved in traditional materials as well as some that use unconventional and inventive processes. Some works are resolutely abstract, while others create stories and narratives. Some evoke an emotional response through the treatment or juxtaposition of materials.
The exhibition charts a decade that began with a significant moment for British sculpture. The summer of 1977 saw the staging of an exhibition called A Silver Jubilee Exhibition of Contemporary British Sculpture. Shown in Battersea Park in London, this was an important exhibition in bringing the development of British sculpture into the public realm. The exhibition was held across two sites; one outdoor and one indoor, marking the start of a dialogue which continued throughout the decade about settings for sculpture - inside, outside, rural and urban.
Making It: Sculpture in Britain 1977-1986 marks a time when artists were bringing sculpture back into the gallery and focusing again on the idea of the self-contained object. Nonetheless, traces of this earlier period of energetic exploration can be seen in the exhibition, particularly in its focus on the act of making, the qualities of the ‘hand-made’ object and the raw qualities of materials, including reused and recycled objects. These themes offered a counterpoint to the clean, mechanised, abstract concerns that typified the work of minimalist sculptors such as Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Richard Serra.
The title of the exhibition ‘Making It’ also holds another meaning, about artists gaining recognition and achievement, which certainly held true for these sculptors, in having their work purchased to form part of the Arts Council Collection.