Darbyshire’s work critically examined the language of design, sculpture and our relationship to lived environments. The artist explored the concept of collecting, not only in terms of an institutional critique, but also the way we amass objects for the home, shop or office and what these objects say about us. These ideas explored in Darbyshire’s work that gives the exhibition its title, An Exhibition for Modern Living (2011). A highlight of British Art Show 7, this work was inspired by the landmark 1949 exhibition of the same name at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The 1949 exhibition collected the best of modern ‘design for living’ in the context of the rapidly changing society of post-Second World War America. The show set an example of how design could be made available for the masses and achieved legendary status due to the site-specific custom room installations.
At Manchester Art Gallery, Darbyshire presented a contemporary equivalent that is somewhat more anxious than the 1949 exhibition, presenting an environment packed with objects varying from valuable collectors’ pieces and handmade sculptures to readily available high street items. The work succinctly questioned the political and economic agendas that inform our taste and value judgements today.
While the work An Exhibition for Modern Living examined the nature of how and why individuals collect, Oak Effect (2012) addresses how museums and galleries acquire artworks. For this piece, Darbyshire displayed original wooden objects in a room made from contemporary pieces of flat-pack furniture. The artist has re-worked this installation with curators and conservators at the gallery to present a diverse range of hand-made artefacts fashioned from natural wood from the city’s collections, challenging us to think about the provenance and display of our collections in a very different way.
More recently, Darbyshire has begun to explore industrial prototyping and 3D digital printing to create sculptures using pristine white polystyrene for his Bureau series (2014). The artist has subsequently built on this research and techniques developed to recreate classical and contemporary sculptural forms from layers of hand-cut, multi-coloured polycarbonate as part of a series entitled CAPTCHA. A sculpture from Darbyshire’s CAPTCHA series is currently a highlight of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Two sculptures have been created specifically for the exhibition as part of this series, which will be positioned in Manchester Art Gallery’s impressive Doric entrance hall. During this exhibition, Doryphoros and Dyson took the place of traditional bronze and marble figurative sculpture on either side of the grand stone staircase, set against the backdrop of casts from the Parthenon frieze given by George IV to decorate Manchester’s very own temple to culture.
Shortly after completing the installation of An Exhibition For Modern Living, Matthew Darbyshire spoke to curator Fiona Corridan about the show.
Matthew Darbyshire (born 1977, UK) lives and works in London. He studied Fine Art at the Slade School of Art and at the Royal Academy Schools in London. Solo exhibitions include: Renaissance City, Stanny House, Suffolk; Public Workshop, Krolikarnia National Museum, Warsaw, Poland; Oak Effect, Shipley Gallery, Gateshead; Bureau, Herald St, London; Captcha, Jousse Entreprise, Paris (all 2014); Matthew Darbyshire and the W.A. Ismay Collection, Hepworth Wakefield;
Oak Effect, Bloomberg Space, London (2013); T-Rooms Pt II, Zabludowicz Collection London (2012); T Rooms, Tramway, Glasgow (2012); Jousse Enterprise, Paris (2012); Herald Street, London (2011); Taro Nasu, Tokyo (2011); Funhouse, Hayward Project Space, London (2009) and Blades House Gasworks, London (2008). Group exhibitions include: History is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain, Hayward Gallery, London; Figure of Speech, National Museum, Warsaw, Poland (both 2015); Air de Pied-à-terre, Lisa Cooley, New York (2013); Kettle’s Yard Cambridge (2012); You Are Not Alone, Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, Thailand (2012); British Art Show 7: Days of the Comet, curated by Tom Morton and Lisa Le Feuvre, (2011), Tate Britain Altermodern Triennial, curated by Nicholas Bourriad (2009), and ICA, Nought to Sixty (2008).
Illustration © Adam Gale