Ghisha Koenig: Machines Restrict their Movement

25 May – 13 August 2017

Exhibition in Gallery 4

Ghisha Koenig dedicated her artistic life to studying and sculpting modern factory labour in Britain.

This exhibition brings together drawings and sculptures made between 1951 and 1985 to explore Koenig’s commitment to sculpting industrial labour in South-East England around St. Mary Cray, one of the first housing estates built outside of London.

It was an interest in the body that drew Koenig to her subject. She spent several weeks at a time on the factory floor, sharing the routines of the workers and producing sketches in places such as Morphy Richards, Black and Edginton’s and United Glass Containers. This careful observation directly informed her finished sculpture. Reflecting on the experience, she noted her surprise at finding that the workers were forced to conform their bodies to the machines, rather than the other way around.

Koenig's sculptures are about the human predicament. The artist described the trapped nature of her subjects and their lack of ability to move:

“The machines restrict their movement, but when they are free, say in tea breaks, they’ll still take up the same position day after day. They’ve become so conditioned that they’ve become incapable of real movement; most human beings have very little choice in our society.”

Ghisha Koenig

Interview in 1974

Koenig’s dedication to making figurative sculptures stands as a counterpoint in a period of post-war sculpture populated by artists concerned with abstraction as much as figuration. Her characteristic use of compressed perspective and the sense of familiarity between the workers and their machines gives us an intimate view on working-class life in mid to late century Britain.

We would like to thank the John S Cohen Foundation for their generous support for this exhibition.

Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Friday, 10am - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

Comments (1)

Megan Crofton

23 July 2017 18:51

Would be good to know how many pieces are in the exhibition. I hope to visit before the show closes. I knew Ghisha very well and she was a dear friend and client. However I was in partnership with my husband Jack Crofton, we cast all her work at our foundry in London, the Meridian Bronze Foundry.

David Cotton

David Cotton | Web Editor, Henry Moore Institute

25 July 2017 16:02

Hi Megan, there are eight main pieces in this exhibition: 3 small bronze sculptures in the round, 4 wall mounted sculptures of varying size (two bronze, one terracotta and one plaster) and a large 'Scroll drawing' that takes up an entire wall.

In addition to these, we have three of Koenig's sketchbooks in digital format available to browse through just outside the exhibition space, and many more tucked away in our Archive.

Speaking of which… I mentioned your work at the foundry to our Archivist, Claire Mayoh, who would love to know more about it and your relationship with Ghisha. Hope you manage to make it to the exhibition!

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