Gravity & Grace: The Changing Condition of Sculpture

Hayward Gallery

Hayward Gallery, 21 January – 14 March 1993

Gravity & Grace: The Changing Condition of Sculpture 1965–75, curated by artist, curator and critic Jon Thompson, was the first major international sculpture show to explore the period spanning from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s in its international context.

The exhibition presented around 60 works by 20 artists who had never before shown together on such a scale.

Its title, taken from a book by the philosopher Simone Weil, captured the spirit that informed many of the works in the exhibition, which was characterised by Thompson as a ‘combination of material strength, of earth-boundness, with high seriousness and conceptual elegance.’

Richard Long exhibited his Three Circles of Stones (1972) on one of the sculpture terraces.

Gravity and Grace emerged from an early proposal by Jon Thompson focussing on Italian Arte Povera. This proposal was soon broadened out to include artists working in the UK and America between the mid-1960 and mid-1970s, with an emphasis on sculpture.

In the press release for the exhibition, Thompson summarised some of the radical developments of the period as follows: ‘New elements were introduced into sculpture: animals, plants, industrial materials; the process of manufacture was revealed; the human body was represented in new ways.’

Among the works in Gravity and Grace was Jannis Kounellis’s Untitled (1967), which featured a live macaw, which received a large amount of press attention.

The Italian architect Claudio Silvestrin was responsible for the design of the exhibition. Silvestrin’s pared-back installation was praised in many of the exhibition’s reviews. In Time Out critic Sarah Kent argued that he had ‘transformed the gallery into a minimalist artwork: a model of clarity’.

Architect Claudio Silvestrin's exhibition drawings.

In the exhibition guide, the show’s curator Jon Thompson drew attention to the ways in which the works were exhibited or encountered by the visitor:‘A great deal of work ... sits at our level. Pieces start on the floor where our feet are, and then lean against the wall or run along the floor. Gravity is very seldom circumvented; things happen naturally, art does not intervene to make miracles and create illusion.’

31,000 people visited the exhibition, a higher figure than was expected by the exhibition’s organisers. According to Hayward Gallery Director Joanna Drew, ‘the majority of visitors were ... young, serious and deeply appreciative.’

Private view invitation to Gravity & Grace.

The exhibition was criticised for featuring only one woman among 19 men, and was awarded a ‘black spot’ by the pseudonymous campaigner ‘Fanny Adams’.

Press cutting for Gravity & Grace.

Press cutting for Gravity & Grace.

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