Of all the artforms abstract sculpture is perhaps the one that is able to raise more questions than it answers, allowing the viewer to venture into byways of possibility.
It is this notion that is explored in the latest exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute.
Edward Allington/Things Unsaid, which opened at the Leeds gallery last week, brings together items from the artist’s wide-ranging body of work including 14 sculptures as well as pen and ink drawings, photographic works, archive material and preparatory objects.
Allington, who died in 2017 at the age of 66, was part of a generation of artists who came to prominence in the early 1980s through the group exhibitons Objects and Sculpture at the ICA in London and the Arnolfini in Bristol in 1981 and The Sculpture Show at the Hayward Gallery and Serpentine Gallery in 1983.
A sculptor, writer and teacher, Allington himself described sculpture as ‘making poetry with solid objects’ and his work consistently achieves this. Many of the pieces on display in the exhibition are lyrical, in both content and form, and playful in a way that encourages the viewer to think beyond what is ‘said’ to ‘things unsaid’. Curated by Judith Winter in association with Thalia Allington-Wood and the Allington Estate, the exhibition takes in the artist’s enduring interest in the presence of classical forms in everyday life and his fascination with authenticity and imitation – which in our modern era of fakery seems especially pertinent.
“It’s been a surprise to me to see how relevant and prescient a lot of his work is,” says Winter. “Not only was he looking at truth and lies, he also, through his architectural remnants, touched on economic and cultural collapse.” Winter first met Allington when she was a masters student in the early 1990s and went on to work with him on various projects and proposals as a studio assistant. “He opened the door for my first curatorial job,” she says. “He was a very generous mentor who supported and enouraged a lot of curators and artists. As a teacher at the Slade he influenced and inspired so many sculptors.”
Walking around the show, it is striking just how diverse Allington’s practice is – there are large-scale, floor-standing pieces, smaller-scale objects, remnants and reproductions, drawings and photographs. However, they are all connected by common threads. “The themes and ideas he was interested in run through everything,” says Winter. “His relationship to classicism is not an academic view, it is a deep interest in culture, how it shifts, notions of high art and distrupting those. And he was so erudite and funny.”
The passage of time and how things can be experienced differently depending on context were also preoccuptions for Allington and these can be seen in his works on paper – all done on sheets from old ledgers. You can see writing and figures bleeding through, literally from another time and place. A particular favourite for me, in which his sense of humour is evident, is the series of images Decorative Forms Over the World in which a classically inspired trompe l’oeil 2-D form is placed in various locations and photographed. “Edward said that gallery spaces are places where you learn to look,” says Winter. “The exhibition is not a retrospective, it is about keeping his ideas alive and passing them on for the next generation.”
At Henry Moore Institute, Leeds to January 26, 2020. Free.