Learning to Love the Modern

First Impressions.

Hi, my name is Nicole and I am a self-confessed modern art-phobe. Which probably isn’t the easiest thing for an art historian to admit. After dedicating my academic career to the study of ancient art, I confess I find it hard to rationalise the graceful forms of the art of the ancient world with that of Tracy Emin’s unmade bed. Because of this the Henry Moore Institute isn’t at first glance the ideal fit for me to undertake a placement. The Henry Moore Institute, located in the heart of Leeds city centre, opened on the 22nd of April 1993 as part of the Henry Moore Foundation; established by the English sculptor in 1977. A native of Leeds himself, Moore wished to encourage the appreciation and study of sculpture in Britain and the Institute is now regarded as one of the world leaders in the study of art history, promoting the role of sculpture as central to this. While the Institute interrogates sculpture in all geographical and historical forms, its focus remains on contemporary British sculpture, something completely foreign to my thesis on the reception of ancient art in the 19th century. However, I have always been fascinated with the role that space and experience plays in our understanding and appreciation of art, a theory which has had particular significance on the modern art world. Because of this the Henry Moore Institute provides me an excellent opportunity to widen my field of study as an art historian and gain exciting experience of a research environment.

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. Photo credit: Nicole Cochrane

Interim Thoughts.

The Institute holds a fantastic research library covering many aspects of the study of sculpture, and it’s in this library that I spent the bulk of my time on my placement. My activities compromised primarily researching, and becoming very acquainted with the Institute’s photocopy machine. Given the mind-blowingly open theme of ‘the Sculpture Collection’ I was given free rein to throw myself in to the library’s vast holdings. My first weeks were spent reading about everything from Sculpture Parks around the world, to Eduardo Paolozzi’s extensive toy and model collection and Ai Wei Wei’s monumental and powerful Straight. This was done in preparation for a conference to be held at the Henry Moore Institute in 2017, on the topic of sculpture collections. A great help in my integration into the Henry Moore Institute has been immersing myself in the exhibitions and public lecture programme run by the Institute. In particular I loved the single sculpture series, in which a single object from the Leeds collection is explored within a single lecture (and often brought into the Henry Moore lecture room to be observed). I felt this was an excellent was of bringing focus to particular objects which might have been forgotten amongst the collection and engaging the public with their city collections.


Final Thoughts.

I was lucky enough to coincide my placement with the exhibition of ‘A Lesson in Sculpture with John Latham’, from its initial installation, to seeing its public engagement and to its closing weeks occurring concurrently with my own. The exhibition explored the importance of Latham’s work in dialogue with contemporary artists, incorporating both installation and performance works. The ability to engage with all the events surrounding this exhibition allowed me to appreciate the complexities of work such as Latham’s in a way which would not have been possible as a casual gallery visitor. By the end of my placement with the Institute I had helped contribute to an exciting future project, one which I hope to continue my involvement long after my formal interaction with the Institute. Although I’d still pick a Canova over a Kapoor, my time at Henry Moore helped to show me the exciting opportunities for cross-comparison between the ancient and the modern and the wealth of material that these dialogues bring about. It allowed me to gain an insight into the exciting environment of research institutes and their public output, and taught me most of all that not all modern art is as bad as my puritan heart may have once thought.


I am extremely grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding my placement and to all the warm and welcoming staff at the Henry Moore Institute, particularly to Jon Wood, Kirstie Gregory and Elisa Foster for letting me be a part of their team for a short time and for the fantastic learning opportunities they provided me with.

By Nicole Cochrane

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