The curators and participating artists of the critically mauled Australia exhibition held at London's Royal Academy (RA) in 2013 might take some small amount of solace in recognising that the only RA exhibition considered worse in recent memory was that of the survey of British sculpture two years earlier. Entitled simply enough 20th Century British Sculpture and curated by the then recently appointed director of Tate Britain, Penelope Curtis, that 2011 exhibition was harangued and hated in equal measure for its omissions, lack of vitality and bored provincialism. Labelled ‘shamefully bad’, ‘misguided’ and ‘just stupid’ by Peter Buchanan, ‘joyless’ by Laura Cummings, and – in an especially vitriolic zero-stars review by Andrew Graham-Dixon – ‘lamentable’, the 2011 survey fared poorly in many national reviews. In attempting to navigate the alluring and representative impulse of surveys of national art whilst simultaneously aggregating the global influences upon and the internationalism of its mid-late century, the show failed to represent the vitality and wider contribution of British sculpture. Resisting the show-stopping, globally recognised names of Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor in favour of little-known sculptural works by Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, post-1960s works sat next to canonical transatlantic figures such as Carl Andre and Jeff Koons. The work – the critics bemoaned – was more regional than international, mid-Atlantic than trans-Atlantic, and bitterly and anachronistically out of touch with its progressive international cousins.
British art, sculpture, historiography, exhibition history