Carol Bove / Carlo Scarpa @ Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
What do the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa (1906–78) and the contemporary Brooklyn-based sculptor Carol Bove have in common? The answer: quite a lot, really. So much so, that this exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute feels more like a collaboration or conversation between two living artists, rather than a co-option of a historical artist’s work. Bove’s approach of ‘making room for other people's’ artwork within her own is something she terms ‘forced collaboration.' The end goal, she says, is to create environments that optimise the viewing of other artists’ work. Here, the elements are so neatly woven together that it becomes almost impossible to tell where one artist’s work ends and another’s begins.
Scarpa’s work remains relatively unknown in the UK outside of the world of architecture. He was perhaps the first proponent of an additive approach to architecture – fusing newly built elements with pre-existing structures. A number of vitrines Scarpa designed in the late 1950s are exhibited, empty of their contents – their inclusion a provocation to consider them sculpture in their own right. The craftsmanship is undeniable, glass plates are held by pressure alone with no bolts or screws and the carpentry is testament to the skills of the Venetian craftsmen Scarpa worked with.
The crux of the exhibition is a large installation in Gallery 2, for which Scarpa’s 1968 Venice Biennale installation, Ambiente (‘Environment’), serves as physical and thematic anchor. In their new setting, all of Scarpa’s sculptures are given their own support designed by Bove and form a series of moments, masterfully orchestrated. Colours, forms and materials induce a subtle rhythm as you walk around its stage-like platform. There is a sense of variety within harmony and of repetition punctuated by moments of surprise, like when you notice that the base-plinth has been cut-away at one end revealing a skeletal structure of I-beams underneath. Or, when circling Crescita, a ziggurat-like structure built from cubes, it reveals its precious gold-leaf details.
Two of Bove’s own works, Coral Sculpture (2008) and Heraclitus (2014), in Gallery 1, use incongruous natural and man-made elements such as a peacock feather, a shell, coral, a bronze cube and some twisted junk metal, held aloft by steel stands that cradle and suspend each object, demanding that we take notice of their individual qualities. Though they exist somewhere between scientific specimen, detritus and sculptural object, Bove (like an artist-alchemist) has transformed these fairly ordinary things into beautiful and covetable assemblages.
One of the standout works in the exhibition is a Scarpa vitrine, filled with his designs for details of the Brion Tomb, arguably his architectural masterpiece. Ziggurat motifs and circular apertures abound in his prototypes for keys and candlestick holders. Akin to an alphabet of forms – this is a revelatory work that shows how he achieved an architectural poetry through the use of fragments, and in this work his kinship with Bove becomes clear – the pleasure truly is in the detail.