Carol Bove / Carlo Scarpa @ The Henry Moore Institute

On a work trip to Leeds, I found time to visit the Henry Moore Institute, next to the Art Gallery, along from City Hall. Up a ramp of sloping steps, past reception and into three large, white, cool rooms filled with a dozen or so modern sculptures, big and small.

These are works by contemporary American artist Carol Bove (b.1971), mixed with sculptures by Italian artist Carlo Scarpa (1906-78). Apparently she was interested in/influenced by him. Maybe, I wondered, they were chosen because their names are anagrams.

Installation view showing ‘For Asta’ (2014) and 'Cretaceous' (2014) by Carol Bove.  Courtesy the Artist, Maccarone, New York and David Zwirner, New York/London

Installation view showing ‘For Asta’ (the steel frame) and ‘Cretaceous’ (the vertical wood bound to a girder (both 2014) by Carol Bove, with a pedestal supporting ‘Crescita’ (1968) by Carlo Scarpa. Photo by Jerry Hardman-Jones.

Quite quickly you realise from the wall labels that some works are from the 1950s and 60s (Scarpa) some from the 2000s (Bove).

Are there patterns? Can you distinguish them at sight? After a while I thought so: Scarpa’s work is fussy and detailed and small. Apparently, he trained as an architect and has a structural imagination, though this is mainly expressed in a number of pieces of ‘exhibition furniture’ – to be precise, ‘two vitrines and an easel from Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona and a vitrine from Gipsoteca Canoviana in Possagno’.

Luckily for me, there was a helpful young art student (the only other person in the gallery) to chat with and who explained that ‘exhibition furniture’ means the stuff museums and galleries use to display thing in ie glass cases, vitrines.

Installation view showing a vertical display case in the foreground and a vitrine in the background, both by Scarpa and from the 1950s, with Bove's ‘Untitled (Driftwood Bench)’ (2004) in the middle

Installation view showing a vertical display case in the middle and a vitrine in the background, both by Scarpa and from the 1950s, with Bove’s ‘Untitled (Driftwood Bench)’ (2004) in the middle, and two pedestals supporting ‘Coral Sculpture’ (2008) (left) and ‘Heraclitus’ (2014) (right) by Bove. Photo by Jerry Hardman-Jones.

These cases seemed rather old – there were faded patches on the lining where display items had once sat – and were obviously practical in design. You could persuade yourself that the fact these cases designed to display things were now themselves on display was some kind of irony, ‘interrogating’ the institution of the gallery, or a comment on society etc. But mostly they just looked old and there was a fussiness, too – an interest in small details, screws and wing-nuts.

The upside of Scarpa’s fussiness was exemplified by ‘Crescita’, the diamond shape about 18-inches tall, made up of inch-square metal cubes, like two steep pyramids stuck base-to-base, and set on a 5-foot-tall plinth. According to the student this was intended to spin round, creating a whoooah trippy visual special effect rather like, I hazarded, the opening titles of 1960s sci-fi movies or series. In other words, in design and function, sweet and dated.

A closer view of ‘For Asta’ (the steel frame) and 'Cretaceous' (the vertical wood bound to a girder (both 2014) by Carol Bove, with a pedestal supporting ‘Crescita’ (1968) by Carlo Scarpa.

A closer view of ‘For Asta’ (the steel frame) and ‘Cretaceous’ (the vertical wood bound to a girder (both 2014) by Carol Bove, with a pedestal supporting ‘Crescita’ (1968) by Carlo Scarpa, with ‘Contafili’ (1968) on the white pedestal to the left. Photo by Jerry Hardman-Jones.

All this contrasted with the simpler, bigger, more impactful sculptures by Bove. Three pieces stood out for me:

  • the log bench -‘Untitled (Driftwood Bench)’ (2004) – washed clean by the sea and riddled with woodworm, then stapled onto a solid steal supporting frame.
  • ‘Cretaceous’ (2014), an ancient chunk of petrified wood bolted directly to an I-beam, four metres high, stately, powerful, solid, profound, visible in the first and third photos, above
  • ‘Hieroglyph’ (2013), one large loop of shiny powder-coated steel
‘Hieroglyph’ (2013) by Carol Bove. Powder-coated steel Courtesy the Artist, Maccarone, New York and David Zwirner, New York/London

‘Hieroglyph’ (2013) by Carol Bove. Powder-coated steel. To the right one of Scarpa’s vitrines. To the left ‘Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges’ (2003), wood and metal shelves, antique metronome, wood and string object, books and periodicals. Photo by Jerry Hardman-Jones.

Bove has her own smaller pieces, such as ‘Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges’, visible on the left in the photo above: basically three short bookshelves shelves containing a scattering of 1960s paperbacks, a metronome and a few other random objects – something to do with the way 1960s America assimilated Eastern mystical thought (like it swallows everything).

I also liked ‘Heraclitus’ (2014) on the right in the second photo, like a mobile from which dnagle a seashell, a feather, found objects, steel, concrete – though I initially thought it was a Scarpa because of its size and fiddliness; the art student told me it was created for the show in response to Scarpa’s work…

Interesting – and Bove’s smaller works were interesting, intriguing – but not as memorable as the handful of large objects or what for me was the standout exhibit – the size and solidity and weight and peace and mystery of Cretaceous resonating in my mind as I walked out into the diesel city and downhill towards the frantic train station.

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