A Frieze for Leeds: Imagining a Sculptural Façade for Leeds Art Gallery in 1968
13 June – 2 September 2018
This intriguing set of drawings and models documents an unrealised project from the 1960s that was designed to revive the entrance to Leeds Art Gallery.
Between 1928 and 1932 The Headrow – the road directly outside the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery – was widened. The buildings that were demolished suddenly revealed the previously hidden façade of Leeds Art Gallery. Never intended to be seen so prominently, the austere façade designed by W.H. Thorp in 1886 was considered too plain and intimidating, the sandstone having darkened from pale gold to almost black with pollution.
A larger gallery, museum and library complex was suggested in 1937, but stalled due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The issue wouldn't be addressed again until the 1960s.
“The Art Gallery occupies one of the most important sites in the city yet the face it presents is blank and forbidding. If, however, the existing facade were used as a setting for sculpture the Art Gallery might become one of the most noteworthy public buildings in the country.”
Henry Moore Institute Archive of Sculptors’ Papers
Artists Neville Boden (1929-96), Hubert Dalwood (1924-76) and Austin Wright (1922-2003) were selected to propose a frieze to be installed across the 40-metre façade. All three had been Gregory Fellows at the University of Leeds, making them familiar with both the cultural context of the city and architecture of the gallery.
Boden’s contribution was titled ‘The Bach’ and was intended to reference the association between music and the city – especially the periodical festivals staged at Leeds Town Hall next to the gallery. Boden recognised that music was a useful analogy for abstract sculpture and ‘has to do with colours and shapes and spaces and the rhythms produced by repeating and varying them’.
Dalwood collaborated with the architect and town-planner Tom Hancock, an enthusiast of Victorian buildings. As the façade was not solid stone Dalwood thought it would be difficult to achieve a unified design so he proposed a continuous horizontal relief in reflective aluminium.
Wright planned his design around the five sections created by the pilasters, and the forms he conceived were drawn both from architecture and nature; he spoke of spending the entire summer studying a sunflower.
The project was displayed under the title Three Ideas for Sculpture in 1968, but sadly was never realised because the future of the building was brought into question. The proposals – displayed here together again for the first time in fifty years – provide an intriguing set of imagined possibilities.
Robert Rowe, then Director of Leeds Art Gallery, noted that the display had ‘caused a very great deal of interest in Leeds’ and the Arts Council agreed that the models should remain in Leeds. Rowe wrote to Austin Wright in December 1968: ‘Whatever the future may hold I am sure we have not heard the last of this little episode’.
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The Institute will be closed on Sunday 10 June due to the AJ Bell World Triathlon taking place in the city centre.