It's a load of balls. Yes, yes, we know that's the instinctive reaction of many people to contemporary art – but in this case what we're referring to is actually the recurring motif in one of the two big exhibitions for winter 2015–16 at The Hepworth Wakefield.
US-Italian sculptor Enrico David has taken over Gallery 10, the most impressive single space in the building, and populated it with a collection of pieces which, above all, demonstrates two things. First, it's the impressive breadth of David's imagination, creative process and end results (hmm, is that three things already?). And second, it's that art doesn't need to make a point or serve a purpose: it's just as valid when it's made – and shown – purely for pleasure.
It's a show with a big smile on its face, for David has obviously had a whale of a time creating (many especially for this date with the Hepworth) and arranging the pieces – and then scattering around and among them, seemingly haphazardly, dozens (or, if you prefer, a load) of graphite balls…
Clever and mischievous touches abound. Take Life Sentences, for example: a ten-handed metallic stick man resting in the cobra yoga
position, with the front pair of hands holding a book. He's apparently been dropped on the floor at random – until the sun pierces the clouds outside the big picture window and plays all kinds of light-and-shadow games with him.
Nearby, an untitled bronze figure stands as if on tiptoes, rudimentary hands behind its back, leaning against a wall. Is it earwigging on the folks next door? Or is is caught in the act of falling – maybe having slipped on one of Enrico's balls (oo-err missus, we're having fun, too!) – sliding along the wall before crashing to the gallery floor?
Then there's a more abstract white marble figure which has already hit the deck, apparently chin first, with its backside raised in the air. Either it's melting, it's another hapless victim of the spherical objects or it's… no, let's not even think of going there.
Look up and a pair of giant flies are suspended from the ceiling, the delicate translucency of the spotlights through their wings contrasting with their crudely hairy
legs and the thought of what the balls on the floor beneath them might represent. Also hanging from the ceiling – and, at the other extremity, just touching the floor – is the piece which dominates the room, comprising a rough sketch of a semi-robotic figure, rendered in metal and repeated nine times in gradually increasing scale, each one suspended on a wire. Think of the iconic March of Progress drawing, showing the evolution of man from the apes, but this time with homo sapiens starting as a proto-cyberman and just getting bigger.
This latter installation is, arguably, the key exhibit in the wider show, representing as it does a two-dimensional drawing lifted from the paper and transformed into a sculpture to be viewed in a three-dimensional setting.
In that respect, it's the link between a number of the pieces in Gallery 9 (which, to make best sense of it all, should be viewed first) and the goings-on in Gallery 10, for in the former space are a number of David's drawings and paintings which clearly represent the initial ideas from which sculptures have later evolved – though they also pass muster as works in their own right.
There are also sculptures among the drawings: smaller in scale, more detailed and, unlike their Gallery 10 neighbours, mounted on plinths. The Assumption of Weee comprises ten figures springing from a common root, each successively more upright and more realistically rendered than its counterpart behind and below. It might be playful, it might be rude – either way it prompts a smile – and the same alternative interpretations can also be applied to Tools and Toys III which, on the one hand, resembles a ballet dancer, caught mid-pirouette, radiating an abstract aura and, on the other
hand, could simply be an exercise in good old-fashioned phallic symbolism. You decide, folks…
Discussing his thinking behind the exhibition, which was put together in conjunction with Hepworth chief curator Andrew Bonacina, David was explicit about the link between drawing and sculpture. “About two years ago I started to look at my drawings and their potential to transform into objects,” he explained. “I began to work with clay and wax, working at the same scale as the drawings. However, I was inspired by the grandeur and monumentalism of the Hepworth space and I wanted to activate that space.
“It presented both a challenge and an opportunity to try out relationships between pieces, both 2D and 3D, to open up a conversation about how I end up making these pieces. So the pieces work alone or as a package, with the positioning of them in relation to each other and the space bringing about a landscape.”
And what about those pesky spheres? “They might be markers for the position of the works or they might be a threat. Maybe they're cannonballs, something being dropped on the pieces. Maybe they're bird droppings!”
A load of balls or a pile of s***e, then? No, no, Enrico: it's simply art for art's sake – and that's what makes it such a pleasure.
WfL rating: 4/5