Don’t miss University of Warwick’s art collection on show at Mead

An exhibition not to miss is on for only a couple more weeks in Coventry.

Imagining a University: Fifty Years of the University of Warwick Art Collection is on at the Mead Gallery at the university until June 20.

I have already written about it in the Coventry Telegraph, but it also seems worth mentioning again alongside the book produced to go with it, which is a delight in its own right.

The book contains pictures of the university when the site had just a few buildings in open green fields, and art works in position from the early days. There are also many beautiful photographs of the works of art discussed. The book contains a series of essays by experts in the field which add a lot to our understanding of the foundation of the collection and the Mead Gallery.

Simon Patterson, Cosmic Wallpaper, 2002, digital wa

Simon Patterson, Cosmic Wallpaper, 2002, digital wallpaper

Alan Powers writes what is logically the first chapter on The University of Warwick: the architect, the collector and the patron, which explains how it came to be built, the brutalist architecture and the founding of the collection.

The exhibition tells the story with Coventry Telegraph newspaper cuttings about the permission being given for the University of Warwick and six others to be established in the 1960s to provide higher education for a more socially diverse cohort of students.

Some of the first paintings are those discussed by Powers and by Beth Williamson in her chapter on Becoming a Collection. There are some of the nine huge, colourful abstract paintings given by Alistair McAlpine. Large abstracts dominate the first room, including two works by Patrick Heron, and one by John Hoyland, and one full of zig zag lines by Roger Barnard, who travelled from Japan to the exhibition opening, plus Terry Frost’s Red All Over.

Williamson discusses the difficulties that went with the decision for the collection to not be kept in a gallery or store room, but to be displayed around the place to add to everyone’s education. Along the way some pieces have regrettably been damaged, but others have become part of people’s daily lives.

Throughout this book, current and former member of staff and students explain the importance of individual pieces to them, sometimes as an irritant but more often something to gaze at for inspiration or to escape daily life.

In my own five years as a part-time Warwick student I remember several pieces in rooms in the humanities block, and when my mind wandered to them I knew it was time to concentrate harder on the seminar. Other works on library stairs had me causing a crush when I stopped to read the labels.

Later, as a part time university worker, I was delighted in my first office to have a Michael Rothenstein one side of the doorway and a Stanley Nolan the other; sadly an office move left me lacking that daily art. Visits to University House were a joy to see a Terry Frost, or Maggi Hambling’s portrait of a former VC on the way to a meeting room.

The exhibition gives a chance for everyone to see artworks from all over the University gathered together.

Screenprints and lithographs feature in one section, including Birmingham Race Riot by Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein’s red and blue Sandwich and Soda. There are 12 Paolozzi screenprints inspired by Wittgenstein.

The exhibition moves on to a wall of screenprints and etchings, including works by Paula Rego, Babe Rainbow by Peter Blake, a Kitaj collage, and two small works by Coventry artist George Shaw, showing desolate garages and fence posts by a hedge, lacking a fence.

There are some works donated by Cyril Barrett, a Jesuit Priest and Reader in Philosophy at Warwick, including two boxed mixed media works by Harry Thubron. Other works came into the collection with the merger with Coventry College of Education in 1984, whose principal Joan Browne had collected paintings and ceramics.

A collection of land art works include The Wet Road by Richard Long, and Hamish Fulton’s Callanish, A Five Day, One Hundred Mile Walk photograph, as well as Andy Goldsworthy’s Bullrush Debris, a photograph created on site when he was the university’s first artist in residence. In the catalogue, former registrar Michael Shattock writes of focusing on this work during many meetings, and being grateful for then discovering the artist.

Newer additions to the collection include Hannah Starkey’s posed photograph of a woman with leftover office flowers in a bag, Olga Ivanova’s two photographs of people in Russia from a 2014 exhibition, and the painting Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, a George Shaw work showing nearby Tile Hill.

Other essays in the book cover the forming of the Mead Gallery in the 1980s, the development of the collection and site-specific installations, and its future.

Wherever it goes in the future, don’t miss the chance before June 20 to see so many fantastic works brought together in one place.

*The book, Imagining a University: Fifty Years of the University of Warwick Art Collection, is £18 or £25 after June 21. The exhibition is free to visit.

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