A look ahead to ARK, a modern sculpture exhibition held at Chester Cathedral

Stubbs (Absorbed) by Michael Joo

Stubbs (Absorbed) by Michael Joo - Credit: Archant

There’s an important sculpture show happening in Cheshire this month but it’s not being held in an art gallery, it is at Chester Cathedral, as Janet Reeder discovers.

Chester Cathedral will be transformed into a sculpture galllery

Chester Cathedral will be transformed into a sculpture galllery - Credit: Archant

The eyes of the art world will be focused on Chester Cathedral this month as it launches ARK, the largest modern sculpture exhibition ever to be held in the north of England.

This thrilling and daring development of the cathedral’s five year plan to expand its heritage through art, brings together work by internationally renowned sculptors like Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas and sets them against the gorgeous backdrop of the cathedral and its beautiful ancient spaces.

A fabulous 90 works will be on display from July 7th-October 15th ranging in size from the 5cm high Home and Away by Antony Gormley to Eilis O’Connell’s massive 13.6metres long Unknown and included are new commissions, alongside established works of art on loan from private collections.

The 2017 show follows last year’s mind-blowing Golgotha installation by sculptor David Mach who renews his relationship with the cathedral by creating a new sculpture for ARK.

Noah and the Raven by Jon Buck

Noah and the Raven by Jon Buck - Credit: Archant

Says Mach: ‘There’s something about the venue, the cathedral, which appeals to me. The art world is so precious, so unbearable and pretentious but you can’t escape it. To bring it here takes it away from all that.’

Turner prize-nominated Mach is creating one of the new works that will be shown at the exhibition, based on pieces of wood he’s pulled out of the sea near a cottage he owns in southern Scotland.

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‘By the time I’ve finished with them, I’m covering them with nails and screws and contemporary industrial materials, it weirdly looks like a meteorite that’s landed on the earth after a very dodgy and violent entry into the atmosphere. It’s in the form of a large vase and it’ll have about a million nails and screws hammered into it.’

Masterminding the logistics of Chester Cathedral’s vision are specialist curators Gallery Pangolin who run the largest foundry in Europe where the works for the exhibition hae been cast. A 12-strong team including gallery specialists and workers from a haulage company will have spent two weeks installing the exhibition at the cathedral.

Cathedral staff with curators: L-R Sue Petranca, Abbie-Eve Valentine, Claude Koenig and Jane Buck

Cathedral staff with curators: L-R Sue Petranca, Abbie-Eve Valentine, Claude Koenig and Jane Buck from Pangolin, Emma Roberts - Credit: Archant

Pangolin Editions foundry is run by Claude Koenig with her husband, Rungwe Kingdon. It’s where Damien Hirst’s Pregnant Woman was made; where Antony Gormley’s Angel was born and where Marc Quinn’s bronze transsexuals were cast.

‘They are true artists,’ says cathedral spokesman Emma Roberts.

‘We are very excited to work with them on this exhibition.’

Pangolin had already curated two very successful Crucible exhibitions at Gloucester Cathedral in 2010 and 2014 before they were approached by Chester Cathedral with the idea of hosting a similar event.

Chromosomal Dance by Sue Freeborough

Chromosomal Dance by Sue Freeborough - Credit: Archant

‘The theme of the show is ‘Ark’ in the sense of an ark as a vessel, container or shelter and of course includes Noah’s Ark,’ says Claude.

‘Most of the pieces have been carefully chosen with the theme in mind along with several being specifically made for this exhibition.

‘ Yes we did approach the artists individually, they were not only delighted to be invited to take part but forthcoming and positive in our selection of pieces.’

There’ll be an incredible 90 three dimensional works by over 50 internationally renowned sculptors including Damien Hirst, Sir Antony Gormley, Lynn Chadwick, Barbara Hepworth, Sarah Lucas, David Mach, Kenneth Armitage and Peter Randall-Page, among others, which the cathedral hope will have appeal right across the board.

The sculptural menagerie will include child-friendly pieces and an education programme will be aimed at schools, colleges and university students as well as all visitors with an interest in art and sculpture.

Says Claude: ‘After visually exploring the fabric of the building, each piece was chosen to have a dialogue with, in some case the written commemorative plaques, the imagery of its stained glass windows and of course the carvings throughout the cathedral.

‘In our opinion every piece in this exhibition is world class and shouldn’t be missed. It’s about the exhibition as a whole which makes this a ‘world class contemporary sculpture exhibition,’ as put by the cathedral.’

Added Rungwe: ‘Art is not only about beauty and sensuality, it can also be honest and outspoken. In placing these contemporary sculptures within the rich environment of Chester Cathedral we hope to delight, amaze, confound and challenge our audience.’

And the thing Pangolin are looking forward to most?

‘Seeing first-hand the public’s response as they take in the exhibition.’

ARK will run from July 7– October 15 2017. Visit www.chestercathedral.com for more details and information about opening times.

Facts about ARK

Corpus by Peter Randall-Page is the heaviest piece in the exhibition at 13 tonnes

Perceval by Sarah Lucas is the largest piece in the exhibition at 5 ½ metres long

Home and Away by Antony Gormley is the smallest piece in the exhibition at just 5cm long

Sculptures will have travelled from as far away as Italy, Ireland, Belgium and Iceland especially for the exhibition

The sculptures in the exhibition are made from a wide range of materials, including: Bronze, stainless steel, aluminium, Kilkenny limestone, sterling silver , painted steel, wood, leaves, marble, granite, resin, acrylic, copper , tin, nickel silver, concrete and hair

The following artists are making works especially for ‘Ark’ and these have never been shown before: Jon Buck, Sue Freeborough, Abigail Fallis, Eilis O’Connell, William Pye, Jason Wason, David Mach