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February - 2005


Brit Parade

TOXICWASTE that says I love you, PIECES OF OLD STONE on the floor and plastic kitchen linoleum in cones. IS THIS A DERANGED DIY STORE or an impressive display ofUK sculptural talent?

The flyers advertising a comprehensive summary of modern British sculpture at the Romanian National Museum of Art may be nothing more than bland platitudes' the first major retrospective of British sculpture ever held in Romania', reads the PR fluff, 'includes artists that have contributed significantly to the UK art scene', 'a parallel to the Brancusi exhibition at Tate Modern at the beginning of 2004'.
But the content is far from cliché. 'From Moore to Hirst' shows over 35 works that indicate Britain has been at the forefront of sculptural experimentation. For almost a century, especially in its use of original materials, artists have been carving, cutting, moulding, forging, welding and striking the scene while the iron is hot.
The four chronologically-arranged rooms show a pulsating, confident British vibe. The first room is the throne room: Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, the twin monarchs of UK sculpture, set out a libertarian constitution. Moore links in well to another king of sculpture, local boy Constantin Brancusi, in the elegant primitiveness of its forms, where his bronzes and cast concretes make the passage from figurative to ever more abstract sculpture, without losing their authenticity. Hepworth, meanwhile, wraps the void in feminine curves cut in wood and bronze.
Next up are the members of the royal court, discreetly breaking the rules set out by the old masters. The laws of disciplined stone carving and metal casting are discarded in favour of the 'impertinence' of using linoleum, found objects, timber and placing them directly on the ground, with no pedestal. Marking the clear passage from Moore and Hepworth's classical understanding of the material, Paolozzi, Anthony Caro and William Tucker do not indulge the natural characteristics of the materials, but dare to weld, paint and rearrange their concepts. Complementing their rather industrial view on sculpture, Tacita Dean and Richard Long's works show a simplicity and silence that do not disturb the order of things. A prophet of land art, Long borrows elements of nature to help them express their original force - his Spring Circle , a series of individual pieces of slate arranged in a sun-shaped ring, conjure up feelings of a druidic mass. Then come the royal offspring: the lunatic son Damien Hirst and the adopted daughter, Lebanese-born, but English-settled Mona Hatoum. Hirst cuts to the bone, by collecting toxic medical waste containers in a cage and watching death flood in, but finishing off brit with the title I'll love you forever. His Methods, approaches, assumptions, results and findings show two glass and steel tanks where ping pong balls are blown into the air like a lottery held in Alice'sWonderland. Hatoum's Prayer mat is a metaphor of searching for a home and meaning, a carpet of needles whose compass is looking for Mecca.
When the British Council meets the Romanian National Museum of Art on the latter's ground, it becomes a place of perdition: by losing rigid concepts and other artistic clichés ish in favor of a freer understanding of sculpture.An inhalation of cold British air, intoxicated by a mouthful of smog, never hurt anyone. Go to this gallery, take a long, deep breath and make your acquaintance with a “How do you do?” But with a stiff upper lip.

Anca Pol