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My collection. Or is it an archive? - The Open College of the Arts
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My collection. Or is it an archive?

With reference to the Study Day at the Barbican Art Gallery on 25 April I thought I would let you have an insight into some aspects of my own collection of nearly 2000 exhibition catalogues, art magazines, Art examination syllabus and question papers. I consider this to be more of an archive rather than a collection because although I use it as both a personal resource and as a professional resource. It is a way of cataloguing change so that it becomes of historical interest as well as something I can delve into when I need specific information.
Some of the artists chosen for the magnificent obsessions exhibition collect for both private and professional reasons but many of the collections do not necessarily have a specific function for them.
My collection throws up some fascinating instances of change, for example, how artists at a period of time are suddenly thrown into the limelight and become household names or how the approach to art education changes radically over a relatively short space of time.
I shall provide two examples of this from my collection:
Firstly there is the Slade School of Fine Art Postgraduate Sculpture Show 1979. A catalogue of six sculptors with notes by the esteemed writer and editor of ‘Artscribe’ Stuart Morgan.  Artscribe, a now defunct contemporary art magazine that ran from 1976 – 1992 (I have all the editions), founded by the painter James Faure Walker and the sculptor Ben Jones. Artscribe also launched the career of the editor prior to Morgan – Mathew Collings best known as an art critic and broadcaster.

Gormley postgrad 4239

The catalogue includes the sculptors Nigel Gill, Andrew Klunder, Nicholas Maish, Antony Gormley, Charles Thackery and Vincent Woropay.
Besides Gormley, the only sculptor to make any sort of career was Vincent Woropay and I attach his obituary from The Guardian. The rest of the sculptors  (besides Gormley of course), faded into obscurity. However it is apparent from my memory of the show and Stuart Morgan’s notes that Gormley’s work, at this time, was very different to what we see today. It was about  “re-creating and redefining objects by sculptural means “ often slicing objects such as milk bottles.



It is interesting to note that the catalogue includes information about Gormley that would have been forbidden by the Data Protection Act today including his current address at the time and his telephone number!
Ironically In the early 1970s, before he went to art school, Gormley made a series of Sleeping Place sculptures, which no longer exist. To make these, he draped cloth, soaked in plaster, over bodies lying huddled on the ground. This created freestanding white tents, which enclosed the space of the huddled body, providing a vulnerable covering for sleep.
With his ground -breaking show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1981 he returned to his now famous theme with a sculpture called Bed.
With Bed the artist created negative spaces, which formed a sleeping place, using a double mirror-image representation of his recumbent body, delineated in the hollows eaten out of layers of sliced white bread. Gormley used 8640 slices of Mother’s Pride bread (minus those he ate in making the negative spaces), which he dried and dipped in paraffin wax before stacking and layering them to produce the final form. The volume of the artist’s body was represented by empty space, the contours of which were defined by a surrounding environment composed of bread.
The other example is question papers for the School Certificate for Art from July 1945. An examination for sixteen year olds and an equivalent to the GCSE examinations today. However that is where the similarity ends.

Life drawingschcert 1945243

School Certificate 1945241

These papers were to form the basis of examinations in art from 1918 until 1987. The School certificate was graded as a pass, fail or distinction system and was taken along with Math’s, English and two other subjects. A pass was required to gain exemption from matriculation. The School Certificate was replaced by a graded system of O’ Levels in 1951 but the approach to Art through timed examination did not change until 1987. I worked on those replacements, which were the introduction of GCSE for examination in 1988. We then changed the structure of the Art examination to a paper that was given out two weeks before a timed supervised test to allow students to do preliminary study. The paper also included starting points rather than fixed instructions to encourage creativity. Take a look at the example School Certificate papers –imagine the fuss if exam boards ran examinations on a Saturday today!
To hear more about Richard’s ‘Magnificent Obsession’ and other artist’s collections join him at the Barbican on the 25 April. Reserve your place by emailing [email protected]

Posted by author: Richard Liley

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