Hermaphrodite at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

I have been enjoying the looming presence of Hermaphrodite by Thomas Houseago in the new Modern Sculpture Garden at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art, displayed alongside Henry Moore’s Draped Reclining Woman. Whilst sharing Moore’s preference for the human form, Houseago’s forms are more fleshy and visceral with the textures of his various modelling materials of wood, plaster and clay transmitted into the bronze casts. Seeing Hermaphrodite in the snowfall earlier this year reminded me of the first time I encountered Houseago’s work at a joint exhibition between Modern Art Oxford and the Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum back in 2010 - it snowed then too.


Houseago’s solo exhibit, What Went Down, was held at the Modern Art Oxford in 2010-2011. It was fascinating to also see his works next to the incomplete, reconstructed casts in the Asmolean’s galleries. The juxtapositions of his works alongside modern displays of classical fragments brought home the various classical and museum references in Houseago’s modern works:

I came across Houseago’s work again at the Saatchi’s exhibition The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture the following Summer, and then again at the Frieze Art Fair in the autumn of 2011. But it was seeing his work at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts early this year that excited me in a similar way to seeing his works in the Ashmolean, as the proximity of his sculptural forms to the figurative art of the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection draw new resonances. 

Looking at Hermaphrodite I am reminded of the clay textures of Giacometti’s Standing Woman (UEA 48), the multimedia of Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (UEA 2) and the standing posture of the many of the figures on display including the smaller Statuette of Hathor (or a queen, UEA 323) and Zeus Standing (UEA 616) [ed. search for these images using the UEA numbers here].

For those with university Athens login access, click here for to a review of his work in Art in America (September 2010). The catalogue for What Went Down is available in the Sainsbury Centre shop, for those who wish to find out more about Houseago’s work.

Katherine Clough, WAM undergraduate.