Review: Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction, 1950 – 1970 at Turner Contemporary

Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction, 1950 - 1970 Photo Dan Thompson

By Dan Thompson

Taking in work from Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and including everything from brutalist sculpture to textile arts, Turner Contemporary’s new exhibition finds women wrestling with the post-1945 world.

Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction, 1950 – 1970 includes more than fifty artists, with names we’re familiar with sitting alongside artists we might not have heard of. It includes many artists from the global majority.

All of them are broadly categorised as ‘abstract artists’ – that is, they don’t try to capture an accurate representation of something, but instead use shapes, colours, marks, and textures. But the definition is very broadly applied here. What, after all, do the natural forms of sculptor Barbara Hepworth have in common with optical illusions of painter Bridget Riley?

Photo Dan Thompson

Although the real answer is ‘not much at all’, there is a logic to the curator’s choices, and the whole exhibiton – by my count, nearly 100 works – makes sense. The folding, aluminium sculptures of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark connect to Sandra Blow’s big ‘Abstract, Blue’ painting on the wall nearby. Elisabeth Frink’s bronze lump of a head sits well next to Hannah Wilke’s palm-of-your-hand-sized terracotta ‘Androgynous and Vaginal Sculptures’.

Photo Dan Thompson

And – as long as you have a broad enough mind to accept that not all art is a copy of the vase of flowers in front of the artist – you should be able to find something that captures your interest, intrigues you, or inspires you to look at the world differently.

There are organic, natural forms, like Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Sea Form – Porthmeor’, Meg Rutherford’s ‘Quartros’, Anthea Alley’s ‘Rock’, or Ewa Parchuka’s crocheted ‘The Open Man’.

There are very industrial works, like Jean Spencer’s wood-and-PVA glue relief, Lygia Clark’a sharp-edged ‘Animals’, or Lolo Soldevilla’s constructions.

Photo Dan Thompson

There are works that clearly felt futuristic when made, like Gillian Wise’s perspex, pegs, and thread sculpture and Bridget Riley’s 1960s Op-Art painting, next to works that feel ancient and primal, like Mona Saudi’s ‘Fertility’ and ‘Motherhood’ sculptures.

There are huge paintings – Howardena Pindell’s massive abstract or Agnes Martin’s incredible, precise, minimalist Morning from 1965. And there is craft, in Polish artist Maria Teresa Chojnacka’s dramatic ‘Chains’ made from sisal string or Faith Ringold’s textile hanging ‘Windows of the Wedding’.

Habuba Farah, Sem título (Untitled), 1972

The exhibition captures a slice of a particular time, when women were starting to be treated more equally and were able to explore a new way of being in the world. It’s not the whole of that time, of course – it is only the things that made it into the gallery that’s here, and there’s no representation here of the work of women in film, performance, theatre, community art and so on. And of course, women artists are still under-appreciated and under-represented by major galleries.

Ida Barbarigo, Construction (la ville), 1955

And while you can explore the exhibition on an intellectual level, see how women were pushing and pulling things in new directions, you can also just enjoy this show as a ‘Wunderkammer’, a cabinet of curiosities, full of interesting and unusual objects from around the world.

Photo Dan Thompson

Louise Nevelson’s huge ‘Royal Tide 3’, a collection of driftwood and timber painted gold, Sheila Hick’s ‘Entrance To The Forest’, and Yuko Nasaka’s carved, drilled, and ripped sculptural painting are just incredible, wonderful physical objects.

So if you go in with an open mind, and take the time to look (in all seriousness, once you’ve been round, turn round and do the whole thing in reverse, and you’ll find something new), then in Beyond Form, you’ll find something you fall in love with.

Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction, 1950 – 1970

Saturday 3 February – Monday 6 May , Turner Contemporary Wednesday to Sunday, 10am – 5pm


    • Weird, do you not consider Graphic Design, illustration, pottery, etc a job then? Or er… photography maybe

  1. Hope the cleaners read this page, so they don’t throw it away as a load of bric-a-brac rubbish.

  2. I don’t remember ever making an insulting and ignorant comment about the kind of art and music which I don’t like/ am not interested in, and I don’t understand why people like Checksfield and “real world” are so keen on being insulting about artists whose work they don’t like.

      • Absolutely. People like Checksfield are threatened by that of which they have absolutely no understanding. Life must terrify them…

        Let’s just humour and pity the troll

    • Ms Pink in all her/his various guises have absolutely nothing of any value to contribute whatsoever.
      I think this person desperately craves attention, and for some reason thinks the only way to get this is by behaving like a troll.
      By far the best thing to do is to completely ignore him/her/it.

    • Its because they don’t have that level of skill. As I say, they had a lovely Barbara Hepworth sculpture, but presumably these folk wouldn’t approve of that? Just a load of old tat perhaps, maybe tell that to The Barbara Hepworth museum and offer to do a house clearance at her old house (now the museum in St Ives)

    • They obviously just need to add a few final touches to it. Then it’s almost worthy of the next Birchington library exhibition.

    • M.M.Rees – Tut tut MM Rees – good manners cost nothing and referring to people by their surname only is ill mannered!

  3. Very much looking forward to seeing this exhibition, lots of interesting work by very talented artists.

    On a side note I swear Ms Pink, Real World and Suspended GB News Anchor are all Peter just talking to himself. Honestly do you need to make up more personas to agree with you.

  4. I’ve seen quite a few wonderful exhibitions at our Turner Gallery and am really looking forward to seeing this one, too

  5. Is anyone else as bored as I am by the grumpy goblins on this site. I just don’t care if you think art is rubbish, why do you think your opinion is relevant. Just go away and stop commenting the same old nonsense week after week!

    • Why would there be a mention of Henry Campbell in an article about an exhibition of women artists’ work?

      • Who does Herny identify as ?
        Visited exhibition yesterday ,of what I would describe a theme intersectional feminism or a collection of stuff , gotten together, that was created by women or maybe those who identify as women artists
        Some challenging and interesting pieces,
        Why was Wilkes androgynous palm -of- the -hand terracotta vagina sculptures included ?

  6. Well as everyone obviously hates the Turner so much, I have a suggestion. The government could privatise it, sell it off to Madame Tussauds for 10 quid, then subsidise it to the tune of ten times as much as the Arts Council get to run it. Tussauds would then charge an entry fee, and the investors at Merlin Entertainmemts would get a nice taxpayer funded dividend every year. Win win. Tussauds could rummage through their cellars and find some old wax figures of 50s 60s and 70s pop stars (if they weren’t melted down as being old hat 50 years ago) and send them down to Margate. They could appoint Peter Checksfield as director, and half the gallery could be “Checkers Plays Pop Wonderland, the Golden Age of Music on Wax in Wax”, with punters marvelling at the wax figures of Freddie and the Dreamers, the Hollies, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Slade, Mud, etc etc. There could even be a Chamber of Horrors, with terrifying lifelike models of Rolf Harris, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gary Glitter and Jimmy Savile. There should still be room for “real world World”, though I’m not sure what would please him. A panorama of victorian slums maybe, shoeless ragged children with rickets staring from alleyways. Or a gallery of punishments through the ages, gruesome tableaux of brandings and mutilation, and figures being hanged, drawn and quartered. It would be brilliant, and they could chuck all that rubbish art and Barbara Hepworth stones in the blimmin’ briny.

    • There was a reason why we were happy to pay to see Jerry Lee Lewis at the Winter Gardens. He was hugely entertaining.
      I wonder why the Turner Gallery is afraid to charge?

      • They know that most people only go in there to use the toilets (though sadly they’ve reduced the number of toilets for women in favour of building some to cater for an imaginary 3rd gender).

    • Getagripffs, that was possibly one of the most on the nose bits of sarcasm infused pi$$taking I’ve read in a while. Well done.

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