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.

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!

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