The gallery’s new site-specific commission – by Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes (b.1972, Lisbon) – is the artist’s first solo exhibition in a public gallery in the UK.
Antunes creates sculptures that respond to the architectural and historical context in which they are presented. Her works often reference overlooked figures in the history of Modernism, particularly female architects, artists and designers including Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, Lina Bo Bardi, Eileen Gray and Greta Grossman. Examples of traditional craft techniques, such as hand-knotting fishing nets or the braiding of leather horse bridles, can be seen throughout the artist’s body of work.
Taking its title from British architect Alison Smithson’s description of how young people bring together elements of style to define their identity and social allegiances, Antunes gathers references to overlooked figures in the history of twentieth-century architecture, art and design, particularly women. Antunes’ new commission is informed by two sculptors who lived in London — British artist Mary Martin (1907–69) and Brazilian artist Lucia Nogueira (1950–98). Antunes has undertaken extensive research into both artists and their practice, and while both were known for their sculpture, Martin also made works on paper and weavings and Nogueira made jewellery.
A number of hanging and floor-based sculptures made from materials including metal, leather and rope fill the space, illuminated by lights designed by the artist. The gallery floor is covered by an enlarged geometric pattern based on a drawing by Martin, and is made of cork and linoleum. Taking the form of open grids, the sculptures serve as screens or dividers, creating layers and influencing the viewer’s experience of the space.
Lucia Nogueira created artworks using materials collected, adapted and juxtaposed with other everyday objects, found in the street or in junk shops. Examples of her jewellery are presented in sculptural glass display cases by Danish designer Nanna Ditzel (1923–2005).
Leonor Antunes said: “I am interested in the dialogue that a specific craftsmanship establishes within a certain perspective of modernity — particularly how architects/designers engaged with the vernacular — revealing not a nostalgia for a world before modernism, but rather a legacy regarding a belief in the artwork as representing an ongoing engagement in a process.”