PRESENCE: The Figure in British Postwar and Contemporary Sculpture

No dogs allowed in the Barn Gallery for the duration of this exhibition. Limited access to the exhibition in the barn on Saturday 27th July due to the Paint Symposium.



PRESENCE: The Figure in British Postwar and Contemporary Sculpture


Publication to accompany the exhibition Presence: The Figure in British Postwar and Contemporary Sculpture featuring all artists and works in the exhibition together with a lead essay by curator Wilfrid Wright.





CURATOR-LED TOURS: Booking is essential as places are limited.

Saturday 10 August, 11am, free to attend
Saturday 31 August, 11am, free to attend

Book Place


Held in the 13th century tithe barn at Messums West, Presence: The Figure in British Postwar and Contemporary Sculpture is the latest in Messums’ 2024 season of sculptural exhibitions. Following on from De Nadder, a soundscape exhibition devoid of physical objects, encouraging the audience to meditate on the space around them and the sculptural and image-making qualities of sound, Presence aims to reawaken our senses to look at objects anew as the means that we connect to the inanimate world. All sculpture based on the figure is a mirror to our being and a manifestation of our passing. Presence takes this range of world-class postwar and contemporary figurative sculpture to ask the question, ‘what gives an inanimate object the emotive presence of a living being?’ Ultimately, it seeks to question how this increased awareness will help us to live better in each other’s presence and in the context of the non-biomorphic but still connected world of stone, bronze, wood, textiles, plastic and other agglomerated atoms. It explores the myriad ways in which artists have approached the representation of the human body in sculpture since 1945, encouraging the visitor to reflect on their own perceptions of the body, how we as a species communicate through body language, and what it means to objectify the human body in art. It opens a conversation about what constitutes figurative sculpture, and why artists return, time and again, to this most dominant and enigmatic subject in art history.

The exhibition showcases some of the finest examples of postwar and contemporary figurative sculpture created in Britain, and explores the myriad materials and techniques employed by artists to tackle this most dominant and enigmatic subject in art history. The artworks range in style, medium and date, but they all share a preoccupation with the human body as a central theme.

Figurative sculpture has always held a strong presence in British art, from the unnamed carvers of Celtic stone heads and mediaeval master craftsmen whose statuary adorned ecclesiastical spaces across the land, to the Neoclassical splendour of Joseph Flaxman and the gothic aestheticism of Alfred Gilbert. Even in the 20th century, as Modern art changed the way we saw the world, in sculpture, Britain blazed a trail, with pioneering figurative artists such as Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill paving the way for international heavyweights like Barbera Hepworth and Henry Moore. By the late 1940s, Britain’s reputation for avant-garde sculpture was well established and it has continued to grow over the last seven decades. As artistic sensibilities ebb and flow, what has remained constant is a wide-spread interest in the representation of the human figure. It has acted as a control for radical experiments in form and materials and provided an essential touchstone of communication and shared understanding, helping us, as it has done for millennia, to reflect on and understand ourselves and others.

Exhibiting artists: Kenneth Armitage, Jonathan Baldock, Glenys Barton, Jacob van der Beugel, Christie Brown, Ralph Brown, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Michael Cooper, John Davies, Laurence Edwards, Abigail Fallis, Dame Elisabeth Frink, Antony Gormley, Sean Henry, Nicola Hicks, Michael Hulls, John Humphreys, Alice Kettle, Tim Lewis, Susie MacMurray, Briony Marshall, Bridget McCrum, Henry Moore, Tess Morley, Dame Rachel Whiteread, Yinka Shonibare, William Turnbull, Yan Wang Preston, Emily Young and Carlos Zapata.

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