Germaine Richier, ‘Shepherd of the Landes’ 1951, cast 1996
Germaine Richier
Shepherd of the Landes 1951, cast 1996
Lent from a private collection 1998
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

Opening the Transformed Visions wing are two sculptures that explore the hybridisation of the body.

The central room in this wing looks at the tension between the bodily and the abstract in the art of the 1950s. Living through the physical, moral and humanitarian crises that followed the Second World War, artists were faced with the dilemma of how to make art in the shadow of catastrophe. Wary of false idealisms, some artists engaged more closely with the physical materials of art-making, while others focused on the body as a site for transformation. The surrounding galleries examine ways in which the figure has continued to be the bearer of meaning, protest or renewal in the face of conflict and disaster. There are also several rooms devoted to the elegiac and sublime, with immersive works in which form and colour allow direct emotional engagement.

The introductory pairing of works by Germaine Richier and Thomas Hirschhorn reveals two sharply contrasting ways of presenting the human figure. In Shepherd of the Landes 1951, Richier characteristically merged and modified the human with elements of its surroundings. Its eroded surface reflects the artist’s belief that ‘perforations conduct like flashes of lightning into the material’, and the resulting blasted and scarred figure appears to bear witness to contemporary tragedy. Half a century later, Thomas Hirschhorn’s Candelabra with Heads 2006 approaches the hybrid body through an adoption of biomorphic forms. Despite his use of impermanent materials, the result suggests an ossification of the body that recalls mythology as well as science fiction.

Thomas Hirschhorn was born in 1957 in Bern, Switzerland. He lives and works in Paris.

Germaine Richier (1902-1959) was born in Grans, Bouches-du-Rhône, France. She lived and worked in Paris.

Curated by Matthew Gale.