Crucible - the sculpture exhibition of the decade
PUBLISHED: 18:10 06 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:48 20 February 2013
Gloucester Cathedral is staging one of the most remarkable exhibitions seen in the UK for more than a decade. Words by Candia McKormack
Into the melting pot
For flames were scattered through the tombs
And these had kindled all of them to glowing heat
No artisan could ask for hotter iron
Dantes Inferno, Canto IX
Something very exciting is happening in Gloucestershire. Look up the word crucible in the dictionary and you will find a vessel or melting pot, composed of some very refractory substance or a trial or test. Perhaps both of these definitions are fitting for the two-month exhibition that is being held at Gloucester this month and continuing throughout October. For this exhibition of sculptural work, curated by Gallery Pangolin and being held at the Cathedral, is to be something of a melting pot of the finest contemporary sculptural talent around, as well as being perhaps a test of their worth in the magnificent surroundings of one of the countrys finest buildings.
And it is a tribute to the Dean of Gloucester Cathedral, The Very Reverend Nicholas Bury, that he has given free rein to Pangolin Gallery to select the pieces that will make up the exhibition to mark his retirement at the beginning of October.
The exciting thing about this exhibition is that its bringing together 20th and 21st century sculptors of real note in one place, says the Dean. I dont think this has been done before; at least not on this scale, and certainly not in a cathedral.
Greeting visitors to the cathedral, just to the right of the South Porch, will be one of the exhibitions most astonishing pieces: Eduardo Paolozzis 25-foot, five-tonne Vulcan. Representing the Roman god of fire and the blacksmith who forged weapons for the gods and heroes, he is shown club-footed, wielding a hammer.
Bringing Paolozzis Vulcan here from Edinburgh is an extraordinary thing, says the Dean. And being portrayed as half-man and half-machine, and recognised as the archetypal sculptor, there can surely be no better welcome to Crucible.
Also in the exhibition is a piece called Unity by one of the cathedrals own stonemasons-turned-sculptors Jordi Raga Frances. He has created the piece especially for the exhibition, and it seems fitting that a contemporary artist and craftsman working on the cathedral should be part of this remarkable exhibition. He very much wanted to be part of the exhibition and so submitted some of his artwork to Pangolin who okayed it for the exhibition. He has just given up working as a stonemason at the cathedral in order to concentrate on his work as a sculptor, confirms the Dean. Hes a wonderful artist.
Working closely with Gallery Pangolin, Gloucester Cathedrals Margaret Brown has been involved with the staging of Crucible for the last year or so. Gallery Pangolin are the link with the artists and they are curating the whole exhibition, she says.
But why stage the exhibition at Gloucester Cathedral?
Well, its the most wonderful building in the world, says the Dean playfully. Weve had a number of important sculpture exhibitions here as it is the most glorious place to put sculpture, and placement is hugely important as it enhances both the work and the building. And of course the cathedral used to be full of medieval sculpture before puritans took it all away or smashed it up.
Margaret adds, And of course Pangolin are a Gloucestershire-based company and theyre celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Also, its showcasing the work of Gloucestershire people, so theres that connection too.
Another important feature of the exhibition is that the work of foundry men and women is never recognised, continues the Dean, and its the same with print: the printmaker is not recognised, nor are the makers of bronze sculptures. Everyones heard of Damien Hirst, but not many people have heard of Rungwe Kingdon
which takes us to the Victorian industrial estate in Chalford, where Pangolin Editions art foundry and its gallery are tucked away next to the River Frome.
Rungwe and his now wife Claude Koenig worked for renowned sculptor Lynn Chadwick while they were students, and they cast many of his bronzes. It was partly due to this association that Pangolin grew into the hugely successful foundry it is today.
So, how have the Cathedral and Pangolin organised the workload of putting on such an important, large-scale exhibition?
Weve sourced all the work, says Rungwe. Weve spoken to the artists through our working relationship with them and have borrowed the pieces for the exhibition. The marketing of it is where the team at the Cathedral come in were expecting a lot of people to come and see it.
'The Dean has done a lot with art in the Cathedral previously, but this is certainly the largest thing that hasbeen put on to date.'
Jane Buck, who works alongside Rungwe and Claude at Pangolin, has been involved with the massive undertaking of curating the exhibition. Just over a year ago we were invited by the Dean to curate the exhibition. Hes done a lot with art in the Cathedral previously, but this is certainly the largest thing that has been put on to date.
Rungwe continues, I think the Dean is very keen that a lot of things should be made to happen in Gloucestershire, and normally a show of this type wouldnt leave London. And so, to have a show of this calibre in the Cathedral sings the praises of craftsmanship in the county it was the birthplace of the Arts & Crafts movement, and we have a three-year training programme for our apprentices, so theres a natural link there. Also the Cathedral in itself is such a representation of craftsmanship and art of the medieval period, and the Dean is celebrating the current period as being just as much of a great age for sculpture in Britain.
And there is indeed much to celebrate, as is seen by the impressive line-up of sculptors taking part in the exhibition. Names such as Antony Gormley, Lynn Chadwick and Damien Hirst are just three of the 70-plus that will have their work on show.
Were hoping that people will visit the show lots of times, says Jane. Theres so much to see, you wont possibly be able take it all in in one go.
So, is the exhibition going to be a fitting tribute to the retiring Dean?
Before we started we checked with the Dean to see if there were any constraints as to what we could include in the exhibition, says Rungwe, and to his credit he said No, anything goes I dont think we should be censorial.
Crucible does indeed look set to be one of the most exciting cultural happenings in Gloucestershire, so I urge you not to miss the exhibition of the decade
Crucible runs from September 1-October 30 and is free of charge.Gloucester Cathedral, College Green, Gloucester, GL1 2LX, tel: 01452 528095, www.crucible2010.co.uk
A very special Gala Dinner is to be held in the spectacular surroundings of the Nave on Friday, October 8 at 7.15pm for 7.45pm. The evening will include a four-course dinner of the finest Gloucestershire produce, reception drinks, wine, entertainment and a short talk by the director of Pangolin Editions Rungwe Kingdon. This will be the Cathedral's farewell to the Very Rev Nicholas Bury, Dean of Gloucester, at his retirement. Tickets are 95 per person. Book online at www.crucible2010.co.uk or contact development manager Margaret Brown on 01452 508218 or email email@example.com
Pangolin Editions, Chalford Industrial Estate, Chalford, Stroud, GL6 8NT, tel: 01453 886527, www.gallery-pangolin.com
There will be free childrens activity days Crucible Crafts on October 27 and 28, from 10.30am-3.30pm, during half-term. The Big Draw will also be running at this time, where children are invited to sketch parts of the building and sculptures.
Schools can also book a visit to the exhibition for a guided tour and follow-up activities for all key stages. Cost is 3 per pupil (adults free) and includes a freecopy of the young persons guide.Contact Mrs Christine Turton for booking availability on 01452 508210 or email firstname.lastname@example.org