Your Consequences Have Actions is the first solo show in the UK by Saelia Aparicio, shown alongside selected works from the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection by Aloise Corbaz, Madge Gill, Lee Godie, Martha Grunenwaldt, Marie Rose Lortet and Judith Scott. It is exhibiting at The Tetley, Leeds 24 November 2017 – 28 January 2018. Gill Crawshaw reflects on the exhibition and the issues of curation it raises.
Bryony Bond, Artistic Director at The Tetley, told me how this interesting combination of artists and artworks has come about.
The Tetley was developed from Project Space Leeds and, like PSL, supports and develops emerging artists. They have gravitated towards holding more solo exhibitions, as this is an effective way to boost artists’ careers. The Tetley is based in the stunning former headquarters of Leeds’ famous brewery, and holds the Tetley Brewery archive; thousands of items including business documents and plans, marketing materials and brewery ephemera.
This gives the organisation an interest in working with other archives and collections, to create dialogues between contemporary artists and archives. As well as being an opportunity to support guest (often emerging) curators, working with archives provides routes into contemporary art for new audiences. For example, their last exhibitions showed the work of Leeds-born Joseph Buckley at the same time as an exhibition celebrating 50 years of Leeds West Indian Carnival.
The Musgrave Kinley Collection is held at The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester. Bryony was working there when the collection arrived in 2010, so she knows the collection and its history well, and shows a deep appreciation and respect for the art and the artists.
As she says, there is great hope to be found in this art, for example, the outpouring of creativity that started when Martha Grunenwaldt was 71 years old. These artists attest to the power of art, they are driven to create without any regard for the artworld and we can admire their integrity. Bryony goes on to say that they prove “art comes from everywhere and can be made from anything.”
Needless to say, ‘Outsider Art’ is a contested term, with strong feelings both for and against using it. Without rehashing the debate here, I’ve been prompted to learn more about the origin of the term and the collection, which followed on from the successful Outsiders exhibition organised by Victor Musgrave and Roger Cardinal at The Hayward Gallery, London in 1979. Musgrave and his partner, Monika Kinley, built up the collection together. Kinley continued to develop it after Musgrave’s death in 1984 and established it as a public collection.
It’s wonderful to see some of the works from the collection in Leeds. The Tetley is made up of a number of small galleries – wood-panelled former offices of the brewery – which allows viewers to focus on the work of each of the artists from the collection, alongside Aparicio’s pieces.
Often the work of Outsider Artists has been shown together, and en masse, but here they are not crowded or overshadowed, even by some of Aparicio’s dramatic sculptures and installations. Bryony explained how some of Aparicio’s characters had been placed as if they were visiting the other artworks.
This sets up some surprising and pleasing dialogues between them. For example, the radiating cracks in the glass pane of Aparicio’s Broken Builder reflect the delicate threads of Lortet’s textile sculpture that it is paired with. Aparicio’s description of her piece as a “free-standing drawing” would apply just as well to Lortet’s work.
The Outsider Artists never act as mere support acts to Aparicio’s work; indeed, in some cases they are the main attraction. How could it be otherwise with Judith Scott’s weighty cocooned textile sculptures or Lee Godie’s compelling portraits?
Using a wide range of media from animation to casting and sculpture and, unavoidably, the vast wall painting in The Tetley’s atrium, Aparicio explores the physicality of the human body, both its internal organs and external skin, which can be shed, stretched and transformed.
By selecting women artists from the Musgrave Kinley Collection, themes of female bodies and female identities come across strongly in Your Consequences Have Actions. Kinley and Musgrave always intended that works from their collection would be shown in mixed contemporary exhibitions where Kinley said they could “make interesting connections”.
The artists in the Musgrave Kinley Collection are not all disabled people, they have not all lived in institutions. But they all have fascinating life stories which, without doubt, attract people to their work and are often referred to in exhibition labels. This is not the case at The Tetley, with information in the galleries kept to a minimum. Viewers are allowed to make their own connections with the art, spending as long or as little time as they like contemplating it.
I was reminded of a recent discussion at Leeds Art Gallery about disabled people and the gallery. Opinion was divided about how much information should be given about artists’ backgrounds, as to whether it was relevant and how much it affected appreciation of the art. By providing further information in the exhibition guide, and by programming talks and other activities, it strikes me that The Tetley has reached a solution that will suit many people.
The artwork can speak for itself, unrestricted by context or labels. Context and background is instead provided by other means for those that want it. The artists (including disabled artists) are not rendered invisible and their importance is recognised, but the artwork takes prominence.
The strategy of bringing contemporary artists and archives together is also extremely effective. Perhaps a fruitful partnership could be struck with the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive in future programming?
Thanks to Bryony Bond for sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm about this exhibition.