Hidden treasures worth £4m at the University of York to be brought to life as first ever art curator is appointed
Now, with the appointment of the University of York’s first art curator, its forgotten finds are to be brought to public gaze.
The setting is home to some 900 pieces of art, from major paintings by Aubrey Williams to sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, which until now have been largely hidden away.
Helena Cox is setting out to break down the “invisible walls” surrounding the esteemed institution, in sharing these works of significance worldwide.
She has expansive plans and is determined to make things happen.
Why shouldn’t the University of York’s cultural contribution be as impactful as any Oxbridge institution?, she queries. Why shouldn’t local artists see the setting as one of their own?
And why shouldn’t the university be a significant centre on the city’s cultural map, as a draw for day trippers and visitors? Most importantly of all, for local people and the public to enjoy.
Mrs Cox said: “At the moment it feels like an invisible wall around campus - we want to change that and put the university on the cultural map for York. We’ve got everything it takes to establish ourselves in this way.
“Now, the sky is the limit. There is so much we can do - there’s so much to look forward to. I’ve never come across anything like this before. It’s absolutely mindblowing.”
The university’s collection, dating from the 15th century and estimated to be worth around £4m, has been amassed since its founding in 1963 but has long been scattered across campus.
As a PhD student in Art History at the university, Mrs Cox said she already knows much of its past. For some years, she admits, she didn’t know it had an art collection, which shows how well it has been hidden.
“Quite a few pieces are either hiding in private offices or college halls,” she said. “Some are just sitting in storage space at the moment. Whilst it’s wonderful to have artwork as a cultural symbol, we want to make sure it’s on public display so that people can enjoy it.”
High profile pieces
Among the paintings and prints and ceramics are some high profile pieces such as Barbara Hepworth’s Antiphon, inspired by the wild landscapes of Yorkshire and currently on loan to The Hepworth Gallery.
Aubrey Williams’ El Dorado and Sun and Earth, meanwhile, are at present hanging on the walls of the Tate Modern for the exhibition Life Between Islands.
In the past, the campus has hosted a sculpture from Henry Moore, and its hope is to draw such acclaimed artists in the future. Its existing collection is vast, she said, and there are some real treasures.
Born in Prague, and having worked in its National Museum Japan before settling in Britain, Mrs Cox was previously curator at Beverley Art Gallery.
Now her first job is to piece these artworks together in discovering their potential. Over coming months, each will be catalogued and audited, to create a rich resource.
It won’t happen overnight, she said. Every artwork must be assessed and conserved to ensure its best possible condition.
But to Mrs Cox this is just the beginning of plans that could change the shape of the university’s cultural offering and the role it plays in community.
She said: “This is such a unique opportunity - to be somewhere that already has this amazing collection, and to start from scratch.
“What drives me to excitement is that this could benefit the university and the city, so that people feel it’s for them."
Newly-appointed art curator Helena Cox is working with Art History students and academics at the University of York to draw on their expertise and give them hands on experience of curating exhibitions.
The university’s little-used sculpture trail of some 15 pieces is to be revived under ambitions, as an experience complete with leaflets and in-depth interpretation and even potentially augmented reality.
Then the plan is more trails, pockets of artwork across campus, exhibitions and opportunities for local artists.
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