If you venture down to the lower ground floor of the Ashmolean this summer, you will come across a series of bronze sculptures of abstract wrestling forms, straining static figures, and delicately poised models. The Olympic Games, the impetus behind so many cultural commissions and projects this year, has inspired this latest temporary exhibition at the Ashmolean.
30 artists have created a series of bronze sculptures which depict Olympic and Paralympic sports, ranging from the self evident wrestling, to the more unusual Paralympic sprinting for the partially sighted.
The artistic responses to this theme are various and individual. Most experiment with exciting ways of depicting movement, and the interest is located in the comparison of techniques. Whilst ‘Kayaking’ is depicted by a roughly modelled kayak powering down a crescentic, plunging wave, ‘Hockey’ is an exciting quasi-cubist depiction. The latter sculpture is an amorphous depiction of a figure going through the motions of hitting a hockey ball with a stick which is depicted as a textured, curved sweep of movement. It is reminiscent of Picasso’s ‘Nude descending a Staircase’ and the photographic explorations of Edward Muybridge all at once.
One of the most prominently displayed sculptures is by our favourite Oxford artist, John Buckley, whose bronze sculpture of a paralympic runner is simple, elegant,and beautiful.
In fact, this was the most prominently displayed piece in the exhibition because the others were practically lost amid the permanent exhibits in the Ashmolean’s Human Image gallery. It was odd, to say the least, to walk into a gallery space so oddly presented. The ancient death masks, fragments, and sculptures certainly dominated the space and besides them the Sport as Art exhibits were practically lost. Whilst the art was definitely admirable, the curation was disappointing.
Each of the sculptures has been cast in bronze at Pangolian Editions, the leading European foundry, in editions of 25 and on display they are technically brilliant.
The quality of patination is astounding, especially in its diversity. The composition is daring, the heavy bronze figures sometimes hanging precariously over empty space, yet the quality of the construction is such that the sculptures appear effortlessly supported.
This impression is emphasized by the juxtaposition of the exhibition pieces with the static, vertical classical sculptures that surround it. The dynamism of the contemporary equivalents set off against these ancient greats.
Visit the exhibition. It’s a small display but a satisfying one, and well worth a look.