Going Public: International Art Collectors in Sheffield

Text by Jesc Bunyard
Edited by Qiwen Ke

What role does philanthropy and private art collections have upon contemporary art? Philanthropists have founded many cities’ public collections, including Sheffield’s. In the 1930’s JG Graves worked with the city of Sheffield in order to create a new gallery and library. His financial contributions and his personal collection created an intellectual space for the people.

In our modern day economy, cuts to arts funding are a reality that we all must negotiate. In this environment, the role of the philanthropist has been rejuvenated. In Sheffield, four private collections are displayed in five venues across the city in Going Public; an exhibition that aims to highlight the work achieved by private art collections.

Displayed at both Site Gallery and Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery (SIA) are works from the dslcollection. Created in 2005 by Dominique and Sylvain Levy, the collection comprises no more than 350 pieces and includes works by major artists from the Cantonese scene. The work from this area is known for occupying a position that is marginal and revolutionary. The southern Chinese Province of Guangdong, formerly known as Canton, is situated away from the political centre of China, which almost gives the works an outsider status. Upon entering the Site Gallery, the viewer is greeted with an aural bombardment. The soundtrack, comprising of Chinese workers shouting numbers in Chinese belongs to Zhou Tao’s video ‘1, 2, 3, 4’. Within the video, staff from various organisations, including shops and restaurants, are seen performing their morning exercises which resemble military drills. This video shows how China is a country with dual ideologies: a country that possesses socialist system but aspires to a capitalist goal. Throughout the works at Site Gallery there is a subversive nature, but also of wit. This continues within the exhibition at SIA, which is mostly dominated by video works. ‘One Hour of Pleasure’ by Liang Juhui also uses humour to stage a political protest. The work documents the artist’s most famous intervention, in which Liang Juhui played video games in the lift of a construction site for one hour. This act disturbed the work around him and thus comments on the immense urban expansion experienced in China in the 1990’s. Also displayed at SIA is the famed ‘RMB City’ by Cao Fei, which is a virtual city created within Second Life. Launching in 2008, participants within Second Life can buy and develop areas and events within the city. ‘RMB City’ is designed to be a space for creative activities and urban planning. At SIA, the artwork is presented in the form of an installation complete with hanging screenshots of ‘RMB City’ and a video projection which takes the viewer on a serene aerial view of the city.

The works shown at Site Gallery and SIA from the dslcollection paint a portrait of a region that is open to innovation and this continues in the artists that work there: they are not afraid of political experimentation.

Over at Millennium Gallery are works from the Cattelain Collection. Formed by Nicolas Cattelain, the collection follows his passion for minimal and conceptual art from the 60’s and 70’s. However the collection is not restrained by this focus, as it also collects work that is seen to continue the legacy of the earlier movements. Here the emphasis is for the work to exist in the same space as the viewer. A visitor to this exhibition is treated to works by Sol Lewitt, Do Ho Suh and Anthony McCall. A highlight of the art on show at Millennium Gallery is Anthony McCall’s sculptural light work. Purely by using smoke and light, McCall creates a work with sits within the realms of expanded cinema and sculpture. The work is truly mesmerizing. The artist has made smoke solid. Within McCall’s work you really can be inside a sculpture.

The Graves Gallery is a must see for anyone interested in the work of Marcel Duchamp as the Marzona Collection includes artworks, letters, catalogues, posters and periodicals all related to the avant-garde in the 20th Century. The works on show here focuses on the work of Duchamp and his relationship to Surrealism and Dadaism. It is an opportunity to absorb yourself in the playful work of the period.

Works from the final collection, the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Collection, are displayed within Sheffield Cathedral. This location doesn’t just play host to the works it enables new readings to come from the work. The exhibition enables a dialogue to take place between the work and the cathedral. The collection owns approximately 1,500 art works, which contains some of the best names in contemporary art: Steve McQueen, Cindy Sherman and Thomas Hirschorn are such examples. Greeting visitors to the cathedral is Goshka Macuga’s monumental ‘Plus Ultra’, a tapestry that takes history and mythology and relates it to contemporary politics. A timely and poignant detail on the work is a boat filled with migrants, with migrants in the sea beneath. Other works include a sound work by Susan Philipsz and the video installation ‘Saint Sebastian’ by Fiona Tan. The headline grabbing work, however, is by Jake and Dinos Chapman. ‘Cyber Iconic Man’, created by the brothers in1996, examines modern science’s interests in genetic engineering and stem cell research. Like other works by the Chapman brothers, it also recalls Francisco de Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’ and examines how detached we are from images of war. Thanks to 24-hour news, the brutality of war becomes the norm in our homes. ‘Cyber Iconic Man’ is displayed in a separate room within the cathedral. The work is presented in the altar, in front of images of the saints holding the weapons that killed them. Within this context, the man becomes saint-like, suffering akin to the saints behind him. The only difference between the Chapman Brother’s work and the wooden relief of the saints is that we can see the blood dripping from the ‘Cyber Iconic Man’, he is dying in front of us. Next to the saints, he is on the brink of death, on the brink of martyrdom.

Exhibition details:

Going Public: International Art Collectors in Sheffield

16 September – 12 December 2015

Going Public: The Sandretto Collection——Sheffield Cathedral
Going Public: The Cattelain Collection——Millennium Gallery
Going Public: The Marzona Collection——Graves Gallery
Going Public: The DSL Collection——Site Galley & Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery


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