In 2018, the artist Phyllida Barlow made the intriguing statement: “Sculpture is the most anthropological of the artforms.” This provocation has provided a point of departure for the multiple outdoor commissions and gallery exhibitions that will go on display across Leeds and Wakefield this summer as part of the inaugural edition of Yorkshire Sculpture International. Billed as the UK’s largest dedicated sculpture festival, it will feature work by 18 artists from 13 different countries, each of who have been selected and brought together in response to a shared interest in harnessing the cultural histories and physical properties of the materials they use.
Highlights of the festival are likely to include a new public realm work in Wakefield city centre by Pakistani-American sculptor Huma Bhabha. Perhaps best known for her celebrated installation We Come in Peace (2018) for The Roof Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, her haunting figures are made using found materials, like styrofoam, cork, rubber, paper, wire, and clay, and informed by the rich network of ‘cross-cultural’ connections which she draws between histories, languages and civilisations.
Recognised as the one of Turkey’s foremost artists, Ayşe Erkmen is another very exciting name within the programme. Her practice is based on closely observing often overlooked environments or situations and transforming them through interventions that bring attention to the historical, cultural, political and geographical of place. Her site-specific sculpture for Leeds Art Gallery’s central court promises to reframe the space entirely.
Also listen out for the work of Lebanese artist and composer Tarek Atoui. For Yorkshire Sculpture International, he will continue his exploration of the material properties of sound, its connection to the body, and his interest in the invention of new instruments and instrument-making. Orchestral performances featuring new and existing instruments will be developed into sound sculptures and installations activated across the festival’s numerous sites.
Alongside these new commissions, Yorkshire Sculpture International will feature a series of major exhibitions spanning its four partner venues. The Hepworth Wakefield prepares to present an ambitious group show of ‘unfolding works’ by artists including Wolfgang Laib and Tau Lewis centred around the theme of ‘truth to materials’. Less than a few miles away, rarely-seen sculptures by the Abstract Expressionist David Smith are about to go on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Over in neighbouring Leeds, new pieces by Rashid Johnson and Tamar Harpaz at the Henry Moore Institute will respond to concerns over the responsibilities of objects within anthropology. And conveniently adjoining the institute, Leeds Art Gallery will explore the breadth of contemporary sculpture-making through a suite of new collection displays and commissions by artists such as Nobuko Tsuchiya.
Judging by the promise of its debut edition, the UK’s largest dedicated sculpture festival looks likely to become a firm fixture in the region’s cultural calendar for years to come.