How do you choose a selection of pieces from over 8,000 artworks? If you’re Ryan Gander, you identify all of the figurative sculptures that appear to be looking at something, and then pair them with pieces featuring the colour blue. This is how the leading British artist has tackled his role as curator of an exhibition to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Arts Council Collection, a prodigious, internationally significant assemblage of work by UK-based artists. The result is Night in the Museum (no echo of the Ben Stiller film intended), which opened at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in July.
The exhibition features thirty different artists, including David Hockney, Angela Bulloch, Henry Moore, Rebecca Warren, Ben Nicholson, Matthew Darbyshire (who had a solo exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery in 2015) and more. But why figurative sculptures? And why the colour blue? Here Gander is subverting traditional roles within the gallery, so that the art object becomes a spectator and, in some ways, curator – as though the view they’ve taken is one they’d chosen. The sculptures join the onlookers, whilst also appearing to have taken part in the selection process, thereby interrupting an easy, passive categorisation of art as object.
“When I look at sculptures of the human figure I am frequently left thinking of all the things that they’ve seen,” explains Gander. “This is the world of the silent onlooker.” It’s also a world in which the colour blue is a focus point; only one artwork turns her back on it. She is Gander’s own contribution to the exhibition, a characteristically playful reimagining of Edgar Degas’ famous bronze figurine The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer in various situations and stages of life. You’ll find her in a side room, a kind of inversion of an exhibition that thinks about how we see art, and what the art itself is looking at.