The Art Library and the British Art Show: Contemporary Art in the Past and Present

  • There’s still time to catch the eighth British Art Show at Leeds Art Gallery until 10 January 2016, but be sure to check the Christmas opening hours if you’re planning a festive visit! By Adam Barham, Art Library, Leeds Central Library

Every five years the British Art Show presents a selection of the UK’s most visionary and exciting artwork. Since its inception in 1979, the exhibition has helped introduce many pioneering stars of British art. Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley and Rachel Whiteread, for instance, are all past exhibitors at the British Art Show.

BAS Catalogues

A selection of our British Art Show catalogues

Looking back to previous British Art Shows can be rewarding. Experiencing the early efforts of influential artists often provides surprising insights into their work. It’s also fascinating to revisit bizarre yet wonderful exhibits from years gone by such as the rooms made of white chocolate in the ’95 show. Keeping up with current British Art Shows is equally rewarding. It’s always enjoyable to witness art history in the making and try predict which artists are destined for greatness… Fame is surely in store for the 2015 exhibitor who works with fossilised dinosaur droppings!


A selection of exhibits pictured in our British Art Show catalogues

Here in the Art Library we have a wealth of resources relating to past and present British Art Shows. Our most intriguing items include the official British Art Show exhibition catalogues. Each catalogue features evocative photos and illustrations to help recreate the exhibition. They also include essays by the show curators and short interviews with the artists, which all provide a deeper understanding of the art on display.


More exhibits pictured in our British Art Show catalogues, including artwork by Fiona Rae

The catalogue for the third British Art Show, which was held in Leeds in 1990, may spark memories for local residents. This catalogue features art reproductions and interviews with several exhibitors who went on to greater things, such as Rachel Whiteread and Fiona Rae. The section on Rachel Whiteread, for instance, gives fascinating insights into her aims and influences (sitting in wardrobes as a child was a major factor). This catalogue is available for reference use in the Art Library.


More exhibits from our British Art Show catalogues, including work by Eileen Simpson & Ben White

The catalogue for the eighth British Art Show, held in Leeds from 2015 until January 2016, gives a comprehensive overview of the latest exhibition. This catalogue has beautiful hi-res reproductions of sculptures, paintings and installations produced by all the current exhibitors. The section on Eileen Simpson and Ben White, for instance, highlights the visual diversity of their display of chart records. This catalogue is available for loan.

BAS Journals

A selection of magazines relating to the British Art Show

The Art Library also has magazines and journals with articles about the British Art Show. These include contemporary reviews from magazines such as Modern Painters and Art Monthly. The reviews provide an incisive snapshot of the times in which they were written, helping us understand how critics viewed the British Art Show in its earlier days; apparently it used to be ‘the show you love to hate’. Art Library magazines have features and interviews with British Art Show exhibitors, including older artists such as Black Audio Film Collective and recent exhibitors such as Pablo Bronstein. Staff in the Library have compiled a guide to these articles you may find useful. These provide a great starting point for those wanting to learn more about the more obscure participants in the show. Magazines and journals are available for reference use in the Art Library. Digital copies of some titles are available through our Art Full Text resource.

BAS Books

A selection of books relating to the British Art Show

Finally, as always in the Art Library, we have an impressive collection of colourful, beautifully produced art books covering a wide range of British Art Show exhibitors. A selection of these books can be found below. Most items are available for loan; please check the catalogue links and feel free to borrow or reserve something today!

An Armley Ghost Story for Christmas

  • by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

SupernaturalGuide“The ghost that turns up, annually, on the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve is largely the invention of Charles Dickens and his imitators in fiction. But ghosts do prefer to visit their familiar haunts on dark winter nights – and, for some, Christmas appears to be the favourite season” (Leeds Weekly Post, December 1938).

So began Leeds Central Library’s recent Yorkshire Ghost Stories for Christmas event, which paired a trilogy of traditional legends by well known authors with vintage accounts of paranormal investigations from the local press. We accompanied 1920s ghostbuster ‘SJP’ on a moonlit tour of Temple Newsam, roamed the Yorkshire Moors in search of spectral beasts, and gathered round a blazing fire to listen to the tale of a haunted highwayman in Yorkshire’s old stage-coaching days.

One of our creepiest accounts came from the pages of Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, a 1936 compilation of supposedly true ghost stories collected by Charles Wood, the 2nd Viscount of Halifax. In its introduction, the author’s son writes: “As long as I can remember, my father’s Ghost Book was one of the most distinctive associations of Hickleton [Hall, Halifax]. He kept it always with great care himself, from time to time making additions to it in his own handwriting, and bringing it out on special occasions such as Christmas to read some of the particular favourites aloud before we all went to bed. Many is the time that – after such an evening – we children would hurry upstairs, feeling that the distance between the Library and our nurseries, dimly lit by oil lamps and full of shadows, was a danger area, where we would not willingly go alone, and where it was unsafe to dawdle.”

This and many other books are listed in the new Leeds Central Library Supernatural Resources Guide (pictured above), which we’ve designed to help students of the Unexplained navigate our unique collections, and fill their festive season with histories of hauntings, witchcraft and psychic phenomena. There’s also factual accounts by such well known figures as Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott and Daniel Defoe.

But, this week, the Secret Library presents a recently-unearthed local ghost story you won’t find in any of those. Submitted to the Armley Board of Surveyors at Christmas 1853, it was supplied by a group known only as ‘The Whiskey Order’ and accompanied by a note that instructs: To be Read at Midnight…

In order to set the scene, take a look at the photograph above, which shows an area of Armley known locally as the Maltkilns. The land in the foreground was, until the 1920s, occupied by Tetley Brewery’s malt houses, where cereal grain was dried in large stone kilns for use in the production of local ales. Those familiar with the area might spot several other local landmarks referenced in the upcoming tale but, for now, picture yourself making your way down that lonely road at midnight in the mid-nineteenth century. There are no streetlamps to light your way into town… No passing cars will stop to offer you a lift. There’s just the fierce growl of a winter wind sweeping down the hill…

So turn up your collar – and read on!

The Haunted Maltkiln: A Ghost Story

Dark was the night, with fury wild,
The tempest rag’d around
The Maltkiln, while its dreary vaults,
Echo’d the dismal sound.

’Twas the lone hour when Spectres walk,
And Table-Turning Sprites;
Releas’d awhile from dark abodes,
Stalk forth on earth at nights.

Armley’s dark streets deserted were,
The Town School’s curfew Bell,
Disturb’d by means invisible
Gave forth a solemn knell.

And louder still the tempest roar’d,
Till crazy buildings shook;
Strange noises ’midst the Waterfalls,
Arose at Beaver Nook.

A Traveller was wandering home,
With walking nearly spent,
Whistling to keep his courage up,
Yet trembling as he went.

A fitful gleam of moonlight pass’d,
And he could dimly see
The ancient pile of Buildings rear’d,
Close by the Cowcroft Stee.

And he had heard like many more,
The tale that Rumour tells,
How every night, in ghastly white,
A Ghost walks through its cells.

He hasten’d on, with trembling steps,
Till opposite he got,
When suddenly! a horrid noise,
Transfix’d him to the spot.

’Twas not a yell, a shriek, or groan,
Which on his ears did fall,
But to his frighten’d senses seem’d,
A mixture of them all.

He stood aghast, with hair on end,
Confus’d with wild affright;
(Just then the Chapel Clock proclaim’d
The hour of dread midnight.)

He gaz’d, while Phantoms grim appear’d
To rise on every side,
And with strange outcries round and round,
With fiendish joy to glide.

And then he saw – O strange to tell,
A pale blue glimmering light;–
The Spectres’ fiery eyeballs seem’d
To sparkle with delight.

He saw no more, he swoon’d with fright;
Yet ’tis by many said,
Next morning when broad daylight came,
He found himself in BED.

How he got home he never know;
But some who tell the tale,
Say, when his wife did let him in,
He Rather smell’d of ALE.

* * * * *

Dark Mystery o’er the Maltkiln hangs,
A dwelling now for Rats;
Although some hint the Phantoms were
A Company of CATS.

[Extracted from Gleanings from Armley Moor: A Christmas Annual, kept in the Leeds Local and Family History Library at shelf mark L ARM 821.]

“Large, loose, baggy monsters”: On Reading Really Long Books Through Winter

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Winter is coming”, they say. Well, it’s not just coming—it’s here. And, while Winter may be cold and dark and seemingly never-ending, the upside is that these characteristics surely make Winter the very best time of year to really indulge the yearning common to all readers: to be truly lost inside a really good book. And what better manner of book in which to do that losing – during these long days and even longer nights – than one of fabulously inordinate length?

And what better place to find such a voluminous tome than the vast and fathomless holdings of Leeds Central Library? There, the budding peruser of the prolonged will find many choices in the deep, dark depths of our collections: among other epic titles, the library holds copies of such dauntingly drawn-out works as Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past; Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time; and those Titans of the time-consuming – the enormously epic works of 18th and 19th-century novelists such as Samuel Richardson, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot and Charles Dickens.


Just one of our vast and fathomless stacks, which contain around 250,000 books

Those lengthy Victorian novels of Dickens and others were famously described by American literary titan Henry James as “large, loose, baggy monsters”; James himself is the focus of another Leviathan of length held at the library: Leon Edel’s magisterial six-volume biography, one of the greatest works of its kind in the last century and a series of interest to anyone wanting to be fully immersed in the kind of life that defines an Age. James, an inveterate reader, was himself an admirer of the gigantically-ginormous 18th-century memoirs by the Duc de Saint-Simon – another life that is actually the story of its times; and we hold a copy of that monumentally-massive work – over 1,500 pages across three volumes.

The first page of Saint-Simon's memoirs...just 1,499 to go

The first page of Saint-Simon’s memoirs…just 1,499 to go

Memoirs and diaries are, of course, a truly fruitful source of the magnificently-mammoth. We hold many, many such works – with perhaps the most immense being that Cthulhu of the colossal, the diary of Samuel Pepys, which weighs in at a ludicrously limitless 12-volumes. About half as long are the diaries of Pepys’ contemporary, John Evelyn, while other masterpieces of literary munificence include the 10-volumes of Casanova’s History of My Life; the 9-volumes of James Agate’s complete memoirs; Gladstone’s 14-volumes of diaries; and the 12-volumes of Frances Burney’s journal.

Cthulhu of the colossal?

Cthulhu of the colossal?

And yet…the current reigning boss of the behemoths (as far as we can tell) in our collection is the immeasurably-infinite History of the Popes by Ludwig von Pastor: 40(!)-volumes of a dense (but fascinating) study of the Papacy since 1305, much of it sourced from the “secret archives of the Vatican”.*

So, pick up any one of these titles, get reading—and we’ll be into May before you can add “the Force be with you.”**

*That’s not including the 36-volumes of the History of the Second World War (United Kingdom Military Series), or the 47-volumes of Marx and Engels’ Collected Works, nor the 47 of Lenin’s, nor the 56-volumes of Martin Luther’s writings….

**Which seems an appropriate time – given George Lucas’ debt to its analysis of myth – to mention the 10-volumes of James Frazer’s eternally-everlasting The Golden Bough

On your Marx, get set - read!

On your Marx, get set – read!

The Dutchman’s Leetle Dog: A Surprising Tale

  • by Gilly Margrave, Music and Performing Arts, Leeds Central Library

leetle dutch dog 1

When I was very small, small enough for grown-ups to be able to distract me by singing funny little songs, I remember my great aunt Ethel singing a song about a little dog which was lost. Aunt Ethel had been a teacher for all her working life and, despite her diminutive stature and vivid red hair (or maybe because of it) was certainly respected and possibly feared by the generations which passed through her classroom. It’s not surprising then that I had always assumed that any song she saw fit to share with a five-year-old would be of the highest moral character and, in my imagination, the little dog with his short ears and long tail had probably just wandered off and would, in due course, return to his owner a little wiser for the experience.

Move on the clock some fifty or so years to a Music Librarian sorting through the contents of some boxes containing 200 or so Victorian popular songs. (The Leeds Music and Performing Arts Library has a substantial collection of 18th and 19th Century popular songs.) Imagine the surprise and delight in discovering a copy of that half-recalled childhood memory… and the slight sense of shock that the “innocent” tale of an errant pup related to the perils of partaking of a little too much beer – and that there was a distinct possibility that the little pooch had fallen foul of a dog-catcher and ended up as not-so-much a lost dog as a hot dog (and ended up as his master’s tea).

leetle dutch dog 3

The song was written around 1854 by American songwriter Sep Winner, so is even older than Great Aunt Ethel, who was born in 1884.

leetle dutch dog 2

leetle dutch dog 4

Unexpected Perspectives #5

  • by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

There are plenty of reasons to visit the Carriageworks Theatre on Millennium Square this month, the main one being that their production of Aladdin, the city’s only traditional pantomime, begins on Friday and runs right through to 9 January. Another reason is to take advantage of the tip-top views from the bar’s floor-to-ceiling windows… Look west for a stunning zigzag perspective right the way along Great George Street (I’ll not spoil it for you here) or north for a bird’s-eye view of the square outside, which is currently crawling with shoppers, diners and general browsers – all of whom look just like ants from up here:


Hey, wait… those ARE ants… I think I need to clean under my desk!

The German Christmas Market has been setting up shop(s) in Millennium Square since 2002, and attracts upwards of 750,000 visitors every year. That’s 10.5 million people who’ve been for a nosy over the last 14 years – or slightly less if you factor in that about seventy of those were me making repeat visits for a Bailey’s hot chocolate. But, statistics aside, that’s still a pretty impressive attraction.

Also impressive is the former Leeds Institute of Science and Art – now the City Museum – watching over the proceedings with its large Eye of Providence. (I’m not kidding… check out that central window in the photo above and phone the Freemasons if you don’t believe me.) Designed as a centre of education for the working class and housing a 1500-capacity lecture theatre, it was built between 1865 and 1868 to plans drawn up by Cuthbert Brodrick, the architect behind the Town Hall and Corn Exchange. The Wetherspoon’s pub to the left of the building is, of course, now named after him and, standing just between them, is the giant grenade-like sculpture Off Kilter by Turner Prize-nominated Richard Wilson, which disguises a light and sound control tower. How’s that for art with a purpose?

Anyway, we’ll leave you with this early, undated engraving of the Institute from Leodis, bethronged not with weary Christmas shoppers but instead lots of old horses, traps and other historical whatsits. Enjoy.