• Pippy Houldsworth Gallery is delighted to participate in Art Basel OVR: Pioneers, dedicated to artists who have broken new ground...

    Pippy Houldsworth Gallery is delighted to participate in Art Basel OVR: Pioneers, dedicated to artists who have broken new ground in terms of their aesthetics, conceptual approach, socio-political frameworks, or their use of specific mediums.

     

    Between 1972 and 1990, Bill Woodrow produced some of the most intriguing and enigmatic sculptures of his generation. In 1972, at the remarkably early age of 23, the artist was given his first solo show by the Whitechapel Gallery, London, where The Evening Standard critic Richard Cork singled out his work for its ‘substantial presence’. 

     

    As the 1970s progressed, Woodrow became increasingly inspired by the ways in which the city around him threw up discarded everyday objects. Taking as his medium the jetsam and detritus washed up after the second great wave of globalisation, Woodrow eschewed the academic register of 1970s conceptualism in favour of a laconic visual poetry rooted in the physical world.

  • A pivotal figure in the New British Sculpture movement of the 1980s – alongside artists including Richard Deacon, Antony Gormley,...

    A pivotal figure in the New British Sculpture movement of the 1980s – alongside artists including Richard Deacon, Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, and Richard Wentworth – Bill Woodrow’s work has been exhibited worldwide for over four decades and acquired by a significant number of major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and Tate, London.

     

    Following his solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1972, Woodrow went on to have solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1983); Kunsthalle Basel (1986); Seattle Art Museum (1988); Tate Britain (1988, 1996); Camden Arts Centre (1995); Tate Modern (2000-1); South London Gallery (2001); and the Royal Academy of Arts (2013).

     

    Woodrow has represented Britain at biennales in Sydney (1982), Paris (1982, 1985), and São Paulo (1983). He was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1986 and participated in Documenta 8, Kassel (1987), for which The Lure of Civilization was made.

  •  

    Richard Wentworth

    Subject: Bill

     

    The oddest things link people from the same generation. Bill Woodrow and I are both ‘results’ of post war England, witnesses of the same comics, newspapers, radio and early television. We both became student Londoners in those hinge years when the ruins of the 19th century entrepôt city were still steaming, many more failures than successes but plenty of jolly resistance.  

     

    The ‘Sixties’. 

     

    By the time I heard about Bill, via word of mouth and fragments of black and white text, spasmodic material optimism was churning - rusting white goods, brown goods, linoleum, lampshades and pelmets, hearthrugs, heaped in junk shops or standing like shrines on street corners. Totem collages. The sense that they were accidental-on-purpose political emblems became floodlit by strikes, riots, and finger pointing disagreement.  

     

    New York? Little different. 

     

    Bill employed a near rustic ‘can do’ by slicing open all this once shiny fabric to make it airily theatrical, collaging the built in surface colour in space. Always lots of ‘Rus in Urbe’ in Bill’s work, tricking the pigeons to arrange themselves in a circle for dinner in imperial Trafalgar Square.  

     

    Corrosively in urbe. 

     

    To me he was waving to early David Smith, the forging and casting days. Bill’s medallions, sited in the here and now. Our very own here and now, but prescient too. Their energy and craft intelligence, their children’s story darkness and light, it meant a lot. Great graphic energies like Goya, Cruikshank and Gilray are in the mix. Blacks and whites. Dark humour. Folding and creasing with laughter.

     

    Richard Wentworth 2021

  • Bill Woodrow, Untitled, 1972

    Untitled 1972

    2 photographs, each mounted on a wooden panel, a stick

    First shown at Woodrow’s solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1972, the first of his career, Untitled explores concepts of space and illusion. Consisting of two large photographs of a branch over a landscape, connected by an example of the real thing, this early work marked Woodrow out for his fluid use of mediums and propensity for bricolage.

     

  • 'I was always the sort of kid who, if I got a torch or a pen for Christmas, the next day I'd have it in bits ... and sometimes I'd get it back together again and sometimes I didn't.'

    Bill Woodrow

  • Bill Woodrow, Brixton Boys; Street Noise, 1979

    Brixton Boys; Street Noise 1979

    a television

    'The shattered TVs in Brixton Boys; Street Noise, 1979 […] are explicitly destructive, not only referring to wider social events (vandalism, surveillance and the failure of consumer society) but also presenting a kind of three-dimensional blank, gaping canvas.’

     

    Julia Kelly & Jon Wood, The Sculpture of Bill Woodrow, pp.59-60

  • ICA 1981

    Installation, 'Objects & Sculpture', Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 1981
  • Bill Woodrow, Spin Dryer with Bicycle Frame including Handlebars, 1981

    Spin Dryer with Bicycle Frame including Handlebars 1981

    a spin dryer

    One of the first two works of its type, Spin Dryer with Bicycle Frame including Handlebars signalled the inception of Woodrow’s now iconic ‘cut-out’ sculptures made solely from washing machines or spin dryers.

     

    The black and white image above shows the work at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, installed alongside Twin-Tub with Guitar and Twin-Tub with Chainsaw (both 1981), now held in the respective collections of Tate, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

  • ‘Woodrow salvaged "white goods", domestic appliances and consumer durables for his raw material. With them he was able to both confront issues of a specifically social character and to explore the non-discursive realms of the poetic.’

    Lynne Cooke 1986

  • MoMA Oxford 1983

    Installation, solo exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1983
  • Bill Woodrow, Australian Landscape, 1983

    Australian Landscape 1983

    microfiche machine, plastic, acrylic paint

    Australian Landscape was made soon after Woodrow’s participation in the 4th Biennale of Sydney in 1982. Inspired by the country’s lunar landscapes and oneiric indigenous culture, Woodrow here renders an Aboriginal-inspired mask out of the side panel of a microfiche reader. An image of a rock formation resembling Uluru is painted in acrylic over the backlit screen; an augury, perhaps, of the West's relationship with a natural world increasingly experienced through the digital image.

  • 'It is hard to overstate the joyful power of Bill Woodrow’s work from the '80s. The inventive ability to turn one thing into another: the ordinary into the mythic. His ability to effortlessly make the things we throw away into art is particularly pertinent today.'

    Anish Kapoor 2021

  • Artforum 1983

  • Gladstone 1983

    Installation, solo exhibition, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, 1983
  • Bill Woodrow, Bowery Light, 1983

    Bowery Light 1983

    car door, enamel paint

    Formed from a singular car door claimed from the streets of New York, Bowery Light comprises a chandelier hanging from the car’s truncated wreckage. With masterful skill, Woodrow pulls forth a marvelous object from an ordinary one, suspended only by a narrow, unfurling ribbon. Adorned with spoons, a calculator and a wristwatch, the work presents a surreal image.

     

    Bowery Light was included in 'Salvaged: Altered Everyday Objects' at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (now MoMA PS1), New York, in 1984.

  • 'The sheer inventiveness of Bill’s transformational meditations on the urban machine is overwhelming: tumble dryers turned into Indian headdresses, car doors into elephants.  Each compels us to confront the lost and the threatened.'

    Antony Gormley 2021

  • Bill Woodrow, Tattoo, 1983

    Tattoo 1983

    car door, car panel, cloth

    'In Tattoo, 1983, a taxi fender trailing a bum’s ragged suit is mauled by a black panther cat in an evocation of urban violence uncaged, an image with a raw punch and incorporative verve that illustrates Woodrow’s strength.'

     

    Kate Linker, Artforum, 1983

  • NYC 1985

    Woodrow's New York City studio, 1985
  • Bill Woodrow, Red Monkey, 1985

    Red Monkey 1985

    filing cabinet, bowling balls, enamel paint

    ‘Woodrow’s animal works refer to certain art-historical traditions of animalier art, for instance, the use of animals to mock human pretensions. In Red Monkey, 1985 a monkey appears to be nonchalantly surveying the work, picking its way over […] a filing cabinet. [The work] suggests perhaps a sideways look from the monkey’s perspective at the absurdities of human ‘civilisation’.

     

    Julia Kelly & Jon Wood, The Sculpture of Bill Woodrow, pp.115-16

  • 'I use images of nature as a symbol of a system which is self-regulating; if it is not interfered with it just gets on with it and has built-in ways of controlling itself. Western industrial society appears to get the balance completely out of proportion.’

    Bill Woodrow

  • Bill Woodrow, Needle, 1986

    Needle 1986

    artillery shells, steel cash box and enamel paint

    The cold, militaristic list of objects that make up Needle – artillery shells, steel cash box and enamel paint – belie the work’s organic, even intimate, imagery. Green leaves, cut from the shells, sprout outwards, transforming an instrument of war into an organic symbol of growth. Two spoons, carved from the lid of the cashbox, lie nestled within, sewn together with the needle and thread that give the work its name. Like The Swallow (1984), a work that presents a flying bird cut from an artillery shell, Needle shows how closely human activity is entwined with nature, yet posits a more positive relationship than many of his sculptures. 

  • Gladstone 1987

    Installation, solo exhibition, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, 1987
  • Bill Woodrow, Silent Running, 1987

    Silent Running 1987

    ventilation ducting, desk trays, wooden barrel, enamel paint

    Silent Running brings together organic, industrial and militaristic imagery. A curved ventilation duct precariously balanced upon a barrel forms the foundational structure of the work, from which is cut a small black bird sucked into a funnel, leaving behind a stark, red, silhouetted hole. A small armoured tank bearing a missile crawls across its curved top. Picturing ventilation, wind and flight, Woodrow expresses the silent running of his title, an oblique comment on the destructive tendencies of human nature.

  • ‘Turning over the redundant iconographies of imperialism and resurrection with conscience, imagination and materials that are all harshly modern, Woodrow’s sculpture is all the time adding to his magical sleight of hand a commanding authority.’

    Richard Thomson in The Burlington Magazine 1986

  • Documenta VIII 1987

    Installation, Documenta 8, Kassel, 1987
  • 'The Documenta piece The Lure of Civilization (1987), in [its] complex negotiation of concepts of the exotic and the global via found materials, pre-figures the installations and work of many contemporary artists in this mode.'

    Julia Kelly 2011

  • Bill Woodrow, The Lure of Civilization, 1987

    The Lure of Civilization 1987

    copper water cylinders, enamel paint

    The Lure of Civilization, conceived for Documenta 8 in Kassel, comprises three large harps amongst a field of bowl-shaped lamps. Atop the harps lie a sheaf of wheat, a microphone, and a slaughtered alligator. The ‘lures of civilisation’ could be said to be represented here: food security, political power, and physical safety (in this case, from wild animals). 

     

    The painted flame in each lamp evokes the Promethean gift and its role in the birth of human society. Formed from copper water cylinders, or immersion heaters, the work traces humanity’s preoccupation with fire: for warmth, cooking, light, and protection from the dangers of the primitive night.

     

    Taken as a whole, the scene resembles a vigil around the three crosses of the crucifixion, the persecuted alligator implying a sacrifice of the natural world at the altar of civilisation.

  • Kunstverein 1987

    Installation, solo exhibition, Kunstverein, M√ľnchen, 1987
  • Bill Woodrow, Small Tattoo with Snake, 1988

    Small Tattoo with Snake 1988

    metal hat box, enamel paint

    Bearing its fangs, a green snake curls upwards, imprisoned in a circular black hat box and surrounded with long, flickering flames. Like a number of Woodrow’s small cut-out works, Small Tattoo with Snake plays with the idea of containment and freedom, considering our relationship to the natural world. Here a wild animal lurks within an everyday storage box, a predator waiting to attack.

  • 'Since the late ’70s, Bill Woodrow has transformed salvaged objects through a process combining archeology with clinical surgery.'

    Virginia Whiles-Serreau in Artforum 1989

  • Bill Woodrow, Meltdown, 1990

    Meltdown 1990

    cardboard, wax, polystyrene, gold leaf

    Made in 1990, only a few years after the Chernobyl disaster, Meltdown appears to critique Western society's prioritisation of power over understanding. The gold leaf evokes the natural hue of the uranium ore typically used for the generation of nuclear energy; whilst the key is left uncast, neglected, unused for any form of 'unlocking'. 

  • Installation Views