Life-sized sculptures of animals face each other across the open court on the fourth floor of the Yale Center for British Art.
A new exhibit entitled “Sculpture by Nicola Hicks” opens today at the British Art Center. The show includes seven life-sized renderings of humans, animals or a combination of the two that the British artist has created in the last decade. The sculptures are coupled with paintings from the Center’s permanent collection the artist selected to display alongside her work. Hicks’ exhibit, the only show at the Center opening this fall, will also be the only one this year that celebrates the work of a living artist.
One sculpture greets visitors in the Center’s main court; the rest occupy two bays on the opposite sides of the fourth-floor gallery space. Martina Droth, associate director of research and education and curator of sculpture at the British Art Center, said that it is unusual to split an exhibition across vistas but that the architecture of the building, designed by Louis Kahn, affords an unusual opportunity for dialogue between the exhibit and the Center’s permanent collection.
Droth described Hicks’ sculptures — which are made out of straw and plaster and often cast in bronze — as a “dramatic intervention into [the Center’s galleries].” Hicks said she thinks her works interrupt the flow of the Center’s collections.
Works on display include animal and human heads, which Hicks said she considers portraits, and full-sized animal sculptures. One plaster portrait depicts a man wearing a bearskin. The sculpture, entitled “Brave,” is a portrait of her adult son as a young man, Hicks explained. She said she depicted him wearing an animal skin to reflect her desire to provide him with some kind of protection as he was growing up.
“We hold all our life’s experience in our bodies,” Hicks said. “I’m trying to get you to relate to the sculpture on that level.”
Two works in the exhibit, including a life-sized sculpture of a donkey wearing a lion skin, belong to a larger series inspired by Aesop’s Fables.
The late 18th and early 19th-century paintings that Hicks chose to pair with her sculptures resonate with the way Hicks approaches her work, Droth said. Many of the paintings depict animals, but Hicks said that she did not choose the paintings “for obvious reasons.”
“The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to look afresh at some of our most famous historic animal paintings by considering their contemporary relevance,” Hicks said in the press release for the exhibit.
Droth joked about the small number of sculptures in the Center’s permanent collection, attributing the comparative scarcity of sculptures to paintings to founder Paul Mellon’s preference for the portrait bust.
The exhibition’s opening event, called “In Amicable Conversation,” took place yesterday evening in the Center’s lecture hall. Independent art curator Patterson Sims and Hicks discussed the artist’s life and work after an introduction given by Yale Center for British Art Director Amy Meyers.
In addition to sculptures, Hicks said she makes charcoal drawings, none of which are featured in this exhibit.
A concurrent exhibit of Hicks’s work is opening at Flowers Gallery in New York City on Saturday.