An Outward Gaze

This extract is taken from the essay An Outward Gaze written by Professor Kenneth Quickenden, who was Head of the School of Theoretical and Historical Studies in Art and Design. Institute of Art and Design, Birmingham City University.

In this extract he gives an overview into how fine metalwork has influenced art design and architecture. He goes on to say…. A consequence of those influences has been to encourage fine metalworkers to engage with a range of issues – environmental, political and social – to a greater degree than fine metalworkers have done in the past.

The production of reproduction silver has dramatically reduced since the 1970’s it has fired contemporary fine metalworkers to react strongly against it, often with the help of fine artists. Cornelia Parker’s Thirty Pieces of Silver, 1988-9 now in the Tate Gallery, London, though by a conceptual artist, expresses the widely-felt contempt for silver-plated trade metalwork by designer-makers. The title, with its Biblical reference to Judas’s betrayal of Christ, is echoed in the contemptuous flattening of the pieces by a 250 ton industrial press. The pieces are suspended above the floor, where they shimmer and chime with slight vibrations; the pieces once gathering dust on some sideboard, are given a new lease of life. The work was exhibited on the cover of the influential journal Metalsmith in 2005.

This contempt for trade metalwork is picked up in David Clarke’s Brouhaha of 2007, where a piece of plated silver has been cut in two. Clarke, and Parker, are building on an earlier artistic tradition. Clarke’s treatment of the coffee-pot neatly reverses Marcel Duchamp’s sensational Bicycle Wheel of 1913; while Clarke asks us to regard the industrially made coffee-pot as the opposite of art, Duchamp asked us whether his industrial readymade might be considered as art. The dull-grey lead, which holds the two halves of Clarke’s pot together, creates a corner window-box; this recalls the Russian artist Vladimir Tatlin’s Corner Counter – Relief of 1915, a novel positioning of counter-art. The humiliation of the coffee pot in Clarke’s piece is therefore now complete, permanently relegated to a humble unnoticed position in the room, far from a central table for which it was originally conceived. The residual Rococo style that characterizes this victim of Clarke’s creative wrath was just one of the styles revived in the nineteenth century.

Kenneth Quickenden produced The Virtual Gallery of Contemporary Fine Metalwork DVD. ISBN 9 781904 839224.



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