by Matilda Martin
The Anthony Shaw collection at York Art Gallery has recently undergone a reworking – and upon my last visit, it struck me as more like an installation piece than a traditional display. After exiting the industrial elevator and turning right, you are transported out of the bright, whitewashed gallery with its showcases into a sitting room packed with interesting objects.
For Anthony Shaw, it is all about the individual piece: “I want the dialogue you get with the working domestic- it’s much more natural”. Shaw’s collection started with ‘domestic’ pottery, utility pieces like jugs, plates bowls. However, he soon went off this so-called ‘perfection’, the true meaning of which he questions through the collection of his pieces. Shaw chooses the pieces to add to his collection by the feelings they inspire in him, rather than strictly by his eye. He never intended to own a collection – he sees himself not as a collector, but as a “custodian of a family”.
Journeys and balance are two themes which stand out for Shaw when observing a piece that he likes. This is how he began collecting the work of artists Gordon Baldwin and Ewen Henderson, who dramatically changed the direction of his collection. He sees the artist’s work as “paintings in another form” which are “full of ideas not usually resolved”. This is what Shaw looks for in his collection- something he can come back to and question time and time again and still not have the answers to; something that keeps him wondering.
It is the tearing of the edges in Baldwin’s work that Shaw finds so fascinating. He sees edges as not only the ending of an object but where it touches the world around it. “It’s all about the beginnings” that the work sparks, the questions it raises. It gives the work “more of a presence” and therefore individuality.
The most recent re-imagining of the Anthony Shaw Collection in York Art Gallery, created by Norwegian artist Per Inge Bjørlo, has changed the layout of the space, making it even more domesticated and separate from the gallery than ever before. As the gallery’s website reveals, ‘Bjørlo has re-designed the Anthony Shaw space with an emphasis on textiles and large sculpture, a reference to both his and Shaw’s day jobs.’ I loved the subtlety with which Bjørlo changed the space; he saw the area itself as something to be altered, not merely its surfaces. He has fulfilled to an even greater extent Shaw’s vision of the works being displayed in a domestic space.
The tapestries on the wall add both a splash of colour and a sense of homeliness before the visitor is shocked by Kerry Jameson’s collection of ‘Fears’ displayed behind the headboards. Shaw says that for some, Jameson’s works are too real and this is why they can make some feel uncomfortable. For me, the headless child-size figures sitting on a ledge in this space jolt the viewer back into the role of observer and not visitor.
Bjørlo’s writes the following accompaniment to the exhibit:
The Anthony Shaw Collection
The soft way to look it hard-
The hard way to make it soft…
And as we hardly know ourselves,
I balance from intuition to read
Anthony and his Collection,
To make a picture/an abstraction
Per Inge Bjørlo
Bjørlo’s take on Anthony Shaw’s collection opened on the 2nd March and will be on display until later this year.