Curating the Tate

What do you do when you come to the realisation that there has never been a synoptic show of Victorian sculpture before? One that would introduce the audience to the entire period and challenge what they thought they knew? Well, if you’re Professor Jason Edwards you co-create one and watch it become incredibly popular on both sides of the Pond.

“I wanted to challenge the presumptions people have about sculpture in the Victorian era.”

This was the driving force behind Professor Edwards co-creation of ‘Sculpture Victorious’, a major exhibition previously shown at the Yale Center for British Arts in the States and reaching the Tate Britain during the first half of 2015.

Now in his 16th year at the University of York, Professor Edwards spends his time teaching a survey course on Victorian sculpture, an MA course on the interrelation of sculpture, craft and the design movement in the 19th century and is also the director of the university’s interdisciplinary Centre for Modern Studies.

He explained: “My PhD was about the impact of Victorian evolutionary theory and molecular physics on the modernist prose of W.B. Yeats, so I moved from thinking about Victorian literature and science to Victorian sculpture, painting and architecture!”

How it came about

Ten years in the making, the exhibition came about after Professor Edwards had already held a couple of smaller shows at the Henry Moore Institute. He said: “The original idea was something very small scale but it grew into much more while working with Michael Hatt at Warwick University, who was then director of research at the Yale Centre of British Art.”

The exhibition shows how inventive, interesting and surprising Victorian sculpture is. “We want people to see how many different materials sculptors worked with, things like glass, wood, shell and even sheepskin, as well as the more common bronze and marble. In short, we wanted to challenge what people thought they knew about the period, about ‘Victorian’ as an adjective and about sculpture itself.”

Will people love it?

“I’ll be fascinated to see the response to the show. I genuinely have no idea how it will go down. It’s full of beautiful, curious, surprising, often difficult things,” said Professor Edwards. “I hope people come away thinking: ‘I’d never have thought of that’. I’m secretly confident that they will.”