Art in an Electric Atmosphere: the Library and Archive of Herbert Read
Curated by Stephen Sutcliffe and Pavilion
2 September 2019–1 August 2020, Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery
I have a box behind my table into which I throw the string from the many parcels that come in, until to draw a length of free string from the tangled mass becomes impossible. That is the true image of my life.” — Herbert Read
Art in an Electric Atmosphere: The Library and Archive of Herbert Read is an assemblage of fragments from the life of a cultural vanguard and anarchist who gave shape to modernist art, literature and thought.
Curated by artist Stephen Sutcliffe and Pavilion, the exhibition includes a new moving image commission by Sutcliffe, shown alongside items from Read’s archive and library.
The son of a Yorkshire farmer, Read (1893–1968) studied at Leeds University and as a young man was swept into a world of radical art, literature and politics through the Leeds Arts Club. In 1915 he went to fight in World War I, emerging three years later as a decorated hero, committed pacifist and published poet.
Read’s lively intellect gained him considerable international reputation as a poet, critic, anarchist, educationalist, historian and philosopher. His countless articles, books, pamphlets and lectures cover subjects from children’s art to industrial design, political power to pottery, surrealism to communism. He served as a trustee of the Tate Gallery (1965-1968) and as a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum (1922-1931), as well as co-founding the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1947.
Comprising of over 165 items from Read’s archive and library, the exhibition has been put together with a collagist’s sensibility so that unusual and open ended discoveries and connections can form between people, places, objects, ideas and aesthetic styles.
At the centre of the exhibition is a new video, City of Dreadful Something, by Glasgow-based and Yorkshire-born video/collage artist Stephen Sutcliffe. The video is based on the covers of Anarchy, a British journal published throughout the 1960s which Read collected and occasionally contributed to. Under the direction of graphic designer Rufus Segar, the journal’s covers sparkle with opposition, urgency and mischief, as relevant to us now as they were then.
Free entry, open to all.
Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery
University of Leeds
Open Tuesday–Saturday, 10am–5pm
Anarchy 70, December 1966 from ‘Anarchy’ Magazine (c.1961 – 1970). Leeds University Library Special Collections BC Read C4589
Stephen Sutcliffe (b.1968, Harrogate) is an artist who lives and works in Glasgow. Recent solo exhibitions include, Talbot Rice Edinburgh, Hepworth Wakefield (2017), Rob Tufnell, London (2015), Tramway, Glasgow (2013) Stills, Edinburgh (2011), Whitechapel Auditorium (2010), Cubitt, London (2009) and Art Now, Light Box, Tate Britain (2005). Group exhibitions include: Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, Germany, Cubitt, London, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon, Portugal, Gaudel De Stampa, Paris (2015). In 2018 he participated in the Manchester International Festival in colaboration with Graham Eatough on a film for the Whitworth Gallery, for which they won the Contemporary Arts Society Award. He has been shortlisted for the Jarman Award twice and in 2012 he won the Margaret Tait Award. This year he has had two books published published, ‘at Fifty’ (Sternberg Press) a monograph and ‘Much Obliged, (Book Works) a kind of autobiography. He is currently exhibiting ‘Dead Birds, High Windows’ a solo show at Künstlerhaus Stuttgart.
Stephen Sutcliffe: City of Dreadful Something
Treasures of the Brotherton, University of Leeds until 1 August 2020
Stephen Sutcliffe’s bold new moving image work, City of Dreadful Something, draws upon Herbert Read’s archive as a jumping off point, combining a poem by the late Martin Bell, cover visuals from Anarchy magazine, and a bread delivery route. The work is as much about the West Yorkshire that Sutcliffe was raised in during the 1970s and 1980s, as it is a response to an archive of cultural history.
The tone of the video is established by a new reading of Martin Bell’s poem From The City of Dreadful Something, which expresses the poets antipathetic relationship to 1970s Leeds. Bell found himself stuck in the city after taking up the position of Gregory Fellow in Poetry at the University of Leeds in 1967, and subsequently died there in poverty. The poem is read by poet George Szirtes who studied with Bell at Leeds Polytechnic in the early 1970s.
Alongside the poem is a Google Street View journey that retraces part of a bread delivery round worked by Sutcliffe’s father in Leeds in the 1970s and 1980s. The journey is punctuated by a series of short animations that borrow from the covers of Anarchy, a British anarchist magazine published throughout the 1960s whose artwork bristles with urgency and opposition.
The video plays at 15 minutes intervals as part of Art in an Electric Atmosphere: The Library and Archive of Herbert Read exhibition.
The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery is generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund
Stills from City of Dreadful Something, Stephen Sutcliffe, 2019.