SARAH MAYHEW looks at some sculptures inspired by the 2012 London Olympics.
At some point around 2006, when I was working as a curator of contemporary art at a large regional art gallery, I was called into a meeting to discuss “what we might programme for the Olympics”.
There were some long silences, some bemused looks, the words ‘tokenistic’ and ‘indignation’ came up; pressure was obviously going to be applied by local authorities bending under weight from above (those big old rings sure do carry some clout) but what on earth were we going to see in art galleries the length and breadth of the country come 2012, and would it be what we wanted to see?
Well, here we are, 2012 is upon us and, lo and behold, the exhibitions are filtering in. Celebrating Olympic success could potentially be a risky business on various levels for the UK – reason to tread carefully, or reason to be bold, instil hope, pride, and inspiration.
The Ashmolean has chosen to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by opening its doors to a touring exhibition co-ordinated by the public art organiser, Art At The Edge CIC.
Standing proud amongst the museum’s permanent collections in the Ashmolean’s Human Image Gallery is a group of 30 specially commissioned bronze sculptures, each a study of different Olympic or Paralympic sports. Each sculpture contributes an idiosyncratic approach and style represented through the work of 29 of Britain’s most prominent contemporary sculptors, including Oxford-based sculptor John Buckley (perhaps best known locally for the adorably infamous Headington Shark).
The 30th was selected in an open sculpture competition, and each of these works, and the talented individuals they represent, have been put on a pedestal (so to speak).
Justin Braithwaite, founder of Art At The Edge, said: “Our selection of sculptures attempts to create a journey through contemporary sculptural styles and themes exploring the inherent artistry in different sporting events as interpreted by artists, looking forward to the Olympics in 2012.”
Freezing speed, strength and agility in time, each sculptor chose a different sport and was given the opportunity to liaise with a representative of their chosen discipline’s national governing body to gain insight and understanding into its character and dynamics.
Mr Buckley said: “I have been involved in representing the effects on landmine victims for 20 years. The subject for my sculpture Blade-runner, top left, captures the human movement at speed along with the crippling devastation that landmines inflict on their victims”.
Across town in Oxford Castle Quarter we will shortly see an exhibition on a similar theme. BT Art of Sport exhibition opens at the O3 Gallery on Saturday, and continues until April 29.
This exhibition will show works including painting, photography and sculpture that have been commissioned by the London 2012 sponsor BT.
O3 Gallery manager Helen Statham said: “O3 Gallery is very proud to be hosting the official BT artists for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. The BT Art of Sport exhibition is set to be a stunning visual showcase of the Olympic mindset, and as all artworks will be for sale, the exhibition will also offer buyers the opportunity to own a piece of Olympic legacy.”
It’s evident that fellow artists have found an unexpected yet harmonious union and perhaps, in some cases, newfound respect and common ground.
For some their tools are brushes/chisels/ printing presses, for others it’s their bodies; for both, it’s their minds, attention to detail and gritty determination.
Hours of painstaking work have resulted in a fusion of creative expression that is sweeping the nation.
It’s undeniably powerful, and really just goes to prove that however hard one might try, it’s impossible to escape the all-encompassing reach, and incredible feat from a personal level to the logistical labyrinth, that is the all-consuming magnitude of the Olympics.
* Sculpture and Sport – A Celebration for 2012 continues until May 20 at the Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2PH.
www.ashmolean.org Admission is free * On Friday, April 20, 1–2pm, there is an introduction to the display with curator of Sculpture and Sport Alan Dun. It is free, and no booking is necessary, but spaces are limited