“The Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle is not a triangle, it's a square.”
The Henry Moore Institute is adjacent to Leeds City Art Gallery, the first venue to host the British Art Show 8 from October 2015 - January 2016. BAS8 concludes its tour in Southampton in 2017.
Bharti Parmar: What is the Henry Moore Institute (HMI) and what does it do?
Catherine Aldred: The HMI is a sculpture gallery and a research centre which is located in the centre of Leeds. We exhibit temporary exhibitions, which usually last for three months, and are a combination of loans from various external institutions and museums and may also draw on the sculptures from the Leeds Art Gallery Collection. We don’t have our own collection like many museums and galleries, so all our exhibitions rely on loans from external sources. We tend to have one main exhibition and a smaller separate exhibition.
We have a specialist reference library, of 20,000-plus books on sculpture. This is a very valuable resource for anyone who is researching sculpture, because we have an amazing collection of books, artists’ files, (private view cards, ephemera etc.), a 35mm slides and an audio-visual collection. We have a display area and an archive open by appointment which holds sketchbooks, drawings, diaries, photographs from some very famous sculptors – such as Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill. We might have a few things by Barbara Hepworth; Helen Chadwick, who’s a female sculptor who died quite young.
BP: She was my tutor.
CA: Really? We have her entire archive in our strong room, which was bequeathed by her widower. We also have older works on paper by Victorian sculptors such as Hamo Thornycroft, who was a very well-known figurative sculptor in his day.
We also have various offices, a technical store and workshop and a seminar room seating 40 people which is used for talks and small conferences.
BP: What is the mission of the Henry Moore Institute?
CA: The HMI is a sculpture gallery and research centre and our aim is to promote sculpture in its widest sense to the public at large. We do this through exhibitions, through our work with the Leeds Sculpture Collection next door, and also through a programme of research, events, talks, conferences, and also through publications. All these elements feed into one another, and ideas for publications also come through visiting scholars and fellows who come to work with us.
I would say therefore that our mission statement is to rewrite sculpture’s history. Every exhibition that we make has to be significant, and to explore an area of sculpture that hasn’t been explored before.
BP: What is the relationship of the Henry Moore Institute to the Henry Moore Foundation?
CA: The Henry Moore Foundation funds the Henry Moore Institute. The Foundation is a grant-giving organisation set up by sculptor Henry Moore and is based in Hertfordshire.
BP: How does the Henry Moore Institute support the work of Leeds artists and those further afield?
CA: The HMI doesn’t focus on Leeds artists per se; its primary remit is to promote sculpture. We have worked with a Leeds-born artist, Thomas Houseago, last year. He was commissioned to create a new work to mark the Grand Depart for the Tour de France. That work was sited outside Leeds Art Gallery on the plinth that is normally reserved for Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure.
We work with artists in all parts of the world, nationally, internationally and how we support them is through exhibitions, conferences, scholarly critiques.
BP: I notice on the new acquisitions page of the HMI website, that Victorian, William Hamo Thornycroft’s, bronze relief, ‘Charity and Justice’, has been acquired for the collection. How often are collections made? How are they selected, and do they comprise contemporary work? And you told me in an earlier answer that you don’t have a collection of your own, so are they are loaned.
CA: The HMI doesn’t collect sculpture; all the sculptures belong to Leeds City Council, and they are all part of the Leeds Art Gallery Collection. However, we do have staff in our building who are Leeds Council employees and part of their remit for working for the HMI is to sit on the Collections and Acquisitions Committees. So we do acquire new works that way, but they belong to the city, the council.
So we do acquire old works, such as the Hamo Thornycroft works, and we also have C20th- contemporary pieces as well, which are acquired, donated and bequeathed to us. A recent acquisition comprised the entire archive of contemporary pyrotechnic sculptor, Stephen Cripps (1952-82) including photographs and drawings of his performative pieces.
BP: Can you tell me about your job and what it involves?
CA: I am the Operations Manager, and I also deputise for the Head of Sculpture Studies, Lisa Le Feuvre. My role is split into three or four categories: I look after the budgets; I look after the building; I manage all the front of house staff; and I’m involved in the recruitment of all staff. I’m the HR person, and I place all the adverts and sit on interview panels, and deal with all the admin to do with recruitment, and health and safety.
So I’m in charge of the operational side of running a gallery that, without which, we couldn’t open our doors, because we need staff, and we need a building, and we need things to tick over.
BP: Can you describe the key formative moments of your career path? Where did you go to college? What did you do after you left college and what have been your key jobs up to this point?
CA: I went to Leeds College of Art - or Jacob Kramer as it was then in the 1980s – where I did a foundation course in Art & Design. Then, I went to Camberwell School of Art in London from 1987-1990, and I did a Graphic Design degree, and specialised in illustration in my second year.
My intention was to practice as a freelance illustrator, which I’ve managed to continue alongside my day job. In the early 90s I worked for two years in Bradford for a gallery called Treadwell’s Art Mill. And that’s how I got into gallery work; it was a baptism of fire – it was essentially me and one other person who ran the gallery for the director – doing everything, from administration to curating, to bookkeeping, to helping to run the theatre, helping to run the café. I’d pack up art works for art fairs, all of that, everything…
I then got a job at the HMI in the year it opened 1993, initially as an information assistant, and I’ve done almost everything apart from the specialist roles. I was Acting Head after the departure of Penelope Curtis (Director Tate Britain) for 9 months.
BP: How do you balance your work as an illustrator and the demands of your job at HMI?
CA: I would say that the day job dominates as I’m employed for 4 and a half days a week. I keep my illustration practice and management role separate as I feel there is no particular conflict. The main constraint is time as I’m also the mother of 3 children. The type of work I do can be done in my home and I work with a print technology I can use portably. I use my time very carefully. What little spare time I have I commit to drawing; there is always a commission on the go and I prioritise works with deadlines.
BP: What is the Leeds art scene like?
CA: It is flourishing! Leeds has independent galleries and studio spaces, e.g. East Street Arts with 3 bases in the city, and others include Wharf Chambers and Assembly Room Studios; there are probably around half a dozen artist run-studios in Leeds.
BP: What do you think the BAS8 has done for Leeds and what is your personal highlight?
CA: It's put Leeds on the map, there are many fringe events, it’s publicised grass roots organisations, there have been associated educational and schools’ events – therefore, there has been a huge spin off for many sectors of the community. It's also publicised galleries in the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.
BP: The Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle? I’ve heard of the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle!
CA: It’s not a triangle, actually, it's a square! The four galleries are the Hepworth, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Leeds Art Gallery and the HMI.
My favourite work from the BAS8 is a watercolour painting The Birth of the Skyscraper from Botanical Architecture by Pablo Bronstein. I like this partly because he uses the same materials and subject matter as I use in my own work; watercolour & ink, and it comprises an architectural image. I particularly like Bronstein’s very detailed approach which includes ‘triffid-like’ creepers framing the image, and I like the scale of this painting; it must be over 10 feet high.
Bharti Parmar is an artist in Birmingham.
Catherine Aldred’s illustrations can be viewed at www.catherinealdred.co.uk and http://catherinealdred-illustrator.blogspot.co.uk/