Moving the Crouching Venus

At the beginning of this week the Crouching Venus from GSA’s plaster cast collection was transported over to The Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow for their ‘Picturing Venus’ exhibition (9 March 29 June 2014).

Whilst a seemingly simple task, enormous care had to be taken whilst transporting the piece between the two sites due to the fragility of the sculpture. The sculpture first had to be removed from its plinth and wrapped by art transporters, who then used a specialist trolley to lower it to the ground and move the Venus outside.

           

The sculpture was then driven over to The Hunterian Art Gallery to be installed as the centrepiece of ‘Picturing Venus’, a focused exhibition between The Hunterian and Glasgow University’s History of Art department that presents new research examining the occurrence of Venus’s image in art and the myths associated with her.

GSA’s Crouching Venus is believed to be a copy of the Crouching Venus in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence where it was taken in 1787. Also known as the Venere nel bagno and Vernere nella conchigla this version of the figure (of which there are a large number of versions with significant variations) is first defiantly recorded in 1704 when it was at the Villa Medici in Rome. All versions are thought to be copies of a statue referred to by Pliny as being by Doidalses and placed in one of the temples of the Portico d’Ottavia in Rome.

By the time the sculpture arrived at the exhibition space, the engravings from The Hunterian’s collection had already been hung. Therefore it was only a matter of unpacking and installing the plinth and cast.

The cast sits away from the wall, so the Crouching Venus can be seen in her entirety. New facets to the sculpture have already been discovered in the impression of a tiny hand on her back, mirroring the touch of the cherubs in the engravings on the walls. The low light of the room (for the preservation of the engravings) with spot lighting also enhances the shadows and depth of form in the sculpture.

 Picturing Venus runs from 9th March- 29th June in The Hunterian Art Gallery, at the University of Glasgow.

 Guest blog post by Penelope Hines, MSc Museum Studies student placement, The University of Glasgow 

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GSA Plaster Cast Collection

For my placement for my MSc in Museum Studies at The University of Glasgow I am working to improve the catalogue entries for the cast collection at The Glasgow School of Art.  This information will form a record of what the School possesses, and will also be added to a new online catalogue, due to launch later this year, which will include images alongside the descriptions. The catalogue entries are compiled from several sources: the pieces themselves; two box files of card catalogues with Polaroids from the 1970s, and information from the School’s archives.

The catalogue entries are compiled from several sources: the pieces themselves; two box files of card catalogues with Polaroid’s from the 70’s, and information from the School’s archives.

The catalogue entries are compiled from several sources: the casts themselves; two box files of card catalogues with Polaroids from the 1970s, and information from the School’s archives.

Frustratingly until recently casts have been seen as the ‘poor relation’ of sculpture and art collections. According to one of the School tour guides, visitors have been surprised and disappointed to discover these are plaster copies and have often branded them ‘fakes’.

However, despite occasionally being considered a poor substitute for the real thing, the potential of casts should not be undervalued. In form they are virtually identical to the original sculpture and aesthetically could be said to provide the same experience of the original works.

A cast collection provides an opportunity to see world renowned works up close as well as creating an entirely unique experience. The sculptures and fragments of architecture displayed around the School’s campus come from all over Europe and the Middle East, making them accessible to all, not just those afforded with the ability to travel.

But, why does Glasgow School of Art have a cast collection? Primarily they are an inheritance of the development of artistic training where in shops of established Masters students would make studies of replicas of classic Greek, Roman, and Renaissance originals. Antique sculpture was seen as one of the highest forms of art thus was one of the greatest mediums through which to study the subject.

After the establishment of art schools casts were used as models for the students to draw; from this they could study musculature structures and the forms of the body.

The School no longer uses these casts for official teaching, however students still draw from the casts in the corridors in their free time and casts are occasionally borrowed by Continuing Education classes to act as models. In the past few years efforts have been made to conserve, protect and document these pieces, in recognition of their unique importance both as works of art and in the history of art education at the School.

Guest post by Penelope Hines, MSc Museum Studies student placement, The University of Glasgow 

Helen Biggar: Hell Unltd screening tonight at GFT

Tonight sees the rare screening of Hell Unltd, a film by acclaimed director Norman McLaren and less well known director and fellow GSA alumnus Helen Biggar.

Kim Moore (Zoey van Goey) was commissioned to create a live score to accompany the screening

Kim Moore (Zoey van Goey) was commissioned to create a live score to accompany the screening

Glasgow School of Art graduate Helen Biggar (1909–1953) created one of the UK’s most influential anti-war films with Norman McLaren just as the Spanish Civil War began. Hell Unltd (1936) is presented for the first time with a specially commissioned live score performed by Kim Moore (Zoey van Goey) and Gareth Griffiths. Kim Moore visited the Archives and Collections Centre recently to research Helen Biggar using materials from the School’s institutional archives. She also got to see some of Biggar’s work (2 pieces (pictured below) have recently been donated to the Archives and Collections by a family member).

Fawn by Helen Biggar, c1930s

Fawn by Helen Biggar, c1930s

Maime Biggar, the artist's younger sister, c1945

Maime Biggar, the artist’s younger sister, c1945

The live performance will be preceded by a rare screening of Traces Left (1983), a documentary about the Glasgow art and political scene in the 1930s and 40s, which focuses in particular on Helen Biggar.

The event marks International Women’s Day and the contribution of women artists in Glasgow. For more information, visit the GFT event page or this really good blog.