Curatorial Art Practice in London

High Voltage Art

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Suitably called BACK LIGHT, the exhibition was a a micro-retrospective revisiting aspects of Bill Culbert’s work from the last five decades, from 1962 to 2010.

The exhibition was open from Friday 10 June to Saturday 9 July.

Bill Culbert (born 1935) came from New Zealand in 1957, studied at the Royal College of Art in London between 1957 and 1960, and by the early 70’s was exhibiting in the UK’s most prestigious galleries and museums. He lives and works between London and Provence.

Initially a painter working within the realm of constructivism, Bill Culbert began his experimentations with electric light in 1968 and started to use shadows, camera obscura, bulbs and fluorescent as his core medium, constructing and retaining light into sculpture.  Soon his work generated intense interest and he exhibited extensively, with many solo shows including the Serpentine  Gallery (1976),  and the ICA (1983 and 1986).

His work received also much attention in France where he participated in major exhibitions such as Electra, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1983, Britannica, 30 years of Sculpture, Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux (1990), Le Havre, where he had his first French retrospective in the same year.  Other exhibitions include The Sixties Art Scene in London at the Barbican, curated by David Mellor (1993), Un siècle de Sculpture Anglaise, Jeu de Paume, 1996.

In New Zealand, his solo retrospective at the City Gallery, Wellington, toured to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth and Dunedin Public Art Gallery, from 1997 to 1998.

Bill Culbert has had more than 100 solo exhibitions to date.

Often associated in the 70’s with kinetic and concrete art, his work has also a strong affinity with Dada, Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp, working with found objects, tables, chairs, crates, tools, jugs, suitcases, lampshades, wine glasses (filled with wine, red as it happens) and electric light, which through the conductors of fluorescents and bulbs is a ready-made in itself. His involvement with conceptual art is also evident.

Gladys Fabre, in her introduction on Culbert for his first French retrospective at Le Havre in 1990, comments on what was happening at the time of When Attitudes become Form: “British experimentation is characterized by an obvious determination to push back the frontiers of art and to question its status; by an economic use of materials; and also by a search for rigour, and the habit of exhibiting a floating ambivalence or a doubt, rather than theatrically staging something obvious.  Bill Culbert fits perfectly into this general trend”.

As a sculptor using light and shadow extending beyond the boundaries of the traditional art object, he has a clear affinity with the pioneering work of Moholy-Nagy.

Bill Culbert is also a photographer.  His photography gives a new clue to the fundamentals in his work: as light reflects through windows or glass and moves through translucent objects, the artist snaps at small mirages but is only focused on the reality that hides behind the apparent misrepresentations of the mind. Rather than a work on illusion, it is a work on surprises from the physical world.  A consistent philosophical approach of catching the unexpected from within the realm of reality seems to be the undercurrent of all Culbert’s work.

His extraordinarily diverse career led him also to produce large public commissions over the past two decades.  In 2010 a major new monograph on Bill Culbert written by the poet, novelist and critic Ian Wedde, was published by Auckland University Press.

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