A new exhibition marks 70 years of fine art at the University of Leeds

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A new exhibition marks 70 years of fine art at the University of Leeds
Maurice de Sausmarez, Tuscan Summer, 1955. © Courtesy of Jane de Sausmarez.

LEEDS.- Why does a university need fine art? Why do fine artists need a university? A multimedia exhibition reviews this debate across seven decades of fine art at the University of Leeds.

Opening on 4 December, Lessons in the studio: Studio in the seminar – 70 years of Fine Art at the University of Leeds is curated by art historian Griselda Pollock and artist Sam Belinfante. The exhibition explores a long conversation between making art and studying the history of art in the context of the radical social and cultural changes since 1949.

Head of School Dr Joanne Crawford said: “Many people, words and objects have made their presence felt here at the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies during the last 70 years. Whilst it is good to look towards the future and think about what is to come, it is equally important to consider the past; to consolidate and cogitate on the highs and lows and lessons learned.”

Fine art at Leeds was originally the project of the influential British war poet and modernist art historian Herbert Read, Bonamy Dobrée (then Professor of English at the University), and painter Valentine Dobrée. The fledgling Department of Fine Art was first led by painter, art historian and pioneering theorist of modern art education, Maurice de Sausmarez. He was assisted by the distinguished refugee art historian Arnold Hauser.

Co-curator Professor Griselda Pollock said: “In 1949, Read, Dobrée and Dobrée believed that having fine art at the University of Leeds would challenge the way universities were promoting science and technology over the arts and humanities. In 2019, we see the same tendency. Art, drama, and music are disappearing from our schools. At university level, arts and humanities are defined as less valuable or useful subjects. Telling the story of fine art at Leeds aims to challenge this dangerous trend.”

What is now the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies has become internationally renowned for its critical projects in feminist and postcolonial questioning of art and culture. It also has a longstanding programme in gallery and museum studies, working closely with local and regional museums, galleries and artist-led projects.

Griselda Pollock continued: “Reviewing our seventy years, we are rediscovering the many ways our students have used their fine art, art history and cultural and museum studies to go into the world as thinkers, artists, musicians, screenwriters, film directors, teachers, curators, editors, and novelists. These include New York Museum of Modern Art’s former chief curator John Elderfield and the creator of The Queen and The Crown Peter Morgan, to artists Jacky Fleming, Sutapa Biswas, Steve Bell and Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price. Alumni also include musicians such as Gang of Four and Little Boots. Visiting artists - from the Gregory Fellows of the 1950s-80s to contemporary figures such as Mary Kelly and Lubaina Himid - have also been a rich part of our history.”

Lessons in the studio: Studio in the seminar – 70 years of Fine Art at the University of Leeds, opens on Wednesday 4 December at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery and Project Space at the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.

Highlights on Display:

Turner Prize-winning artist
Turner Prize winner and celebrated alumna Elizabeth Price will be exhibiting her work Boulder. Made of wound packing tape, it was originally conceived when she was one of the first PhD students in Fine Art in 1996, and grows in size every time it is exhibited. A new drawing is made of the piece every time it is shown – a unique timeline of the evolution of an artwork.

The first South Asian artist to study at Leeds
Leeds alumna Sutapa Biswas will be exhibiting her work Synapse 1, which explores her first return visit to India since leaving as a child. This encounter inspired her to begin research into her own experience as an Indian artist in a post-colonial world. Also on display will be Biswas’ two-screen film, Birdsong, a meditation in part inspired by a lecture at Leeds by lecturer Diana Douglas.

Campus favourite
Rarely exhibited drawings by the first Professor of Fine Art at the University, Quentin Bell, will be on display, depicting preparatory sketches for his iconic sculpture The Dreamer. Now situated in Clothworkers’ Court on the University campus, the sculpture is a firm favourite of students and visitors alike.

The Leeds 13
One of the most famous collective art projects to emerge from the University, The Leeds 13 saw an entire year of fine artists work together to challenge concepts of individual creation and the definition of art. With their conceptual art project Going Places, the group caused a media storm in 1998 with a staged holiday to Malaga.

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