Installation view of the Robert Morris retrospective
Installation view of the Robert Morris retrospective, Tate Gallery, 1971

This issue looks at examples of twentieth-century exhibitions in which notions of play were harnessed by artists and institutions seeking to challenge conventional viewing experiences. Other topics include the evolution of Victorian domestic art, Barbara Hepworth’s relationship with her dealers Gimpel Fils, the American desert and representations of ‘the end’, and perceptions of learning at Tate.


Alice Correia

Records held in the Gimpel Fils Gallery Archive in London shed new light on Barbara Hepworth’s relationship with her dealers, Charles and Peter Gimpel. Although the gallery offered the artist friendship and support, Hepworth’s desire for improved financial security and her unceasing ambition to enhance her artistic reputation eventually led to a breakdown in their relationship.

Ben Cranfield

Using the idea of play to animate fragments from the archive of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, this paper draws upon notions of ‘ludistory’ and the ‘transitional object’ to argue that play is not just the opposite of adult work, but may instead be understood as a radical act of contemporary and contingent searching.

Hilary Floe

In this essay Hilary Floe considers instances of chaotic ‘over-participation’ in three art exhibitions that took place between 1965 and 1971, revisiting utopian notions of play to argue for a more nuanced understanding of its social possibilities.

David Hopkins

Visitors to the opening of the First Papers of Surrealism exhibition in New York in 1942 were disorientated, not only by Marcel Duchamp’s famous ‘mile of string’ installation, but also by the presence of a group of children who, at Duchamp’s instigation, bounced balls and played hopscotch among them. This paper looks closely at the implications of this dramatic incursion of play into the gallery setting, arguing that this seemingly minor intervention was a significant comment on avant-garde attitudes to work and play.

Matilde Nardelli

At the height of the Cold War, artists, writers and filmmakers in America turned to the desert as a space in which notions of ‘the end’ could be articulated. Unpacking the desert’s associations with nuclear apocalypse and environmental ruination, this paper explores works of art and film – by Jean Tinguely, Michelangelo Antonioni and Robert Smithson – in which the end is imagined to be immanent, repetitive and entropic.

Emily Pringle and Jennifer DeWitt

This paper presents the findings of a research project examining the way learning is perceived by senior members of learning staff at Tate in London. Modelled on a specific construction of artistic practice, learning is considered by these members of staff to be a disruptive process to which ethical values are attached. Considering these views in relation to various theoretical constructions of learning, the paper assesses the implications of staff holding these views for Tate and for the museum sector more widely.

Kendall Smaling Wood

Tracing the evolution of the domestic in English cultural discourse over the first half of the nineteenth century, this paper argues that by the 1860s domestic art had become imbued with sacred significance and that the genre had ascended to the realm of religious high art, exemplified by George Elgar Hicks’s Woman’s Mission 1862–3.