Maquette for Screen at New Custom House, Heathrow Airport
Height: 9" (23 cm)
Conceived and welded in 1967
Robert Adams (1917-1984) was one of the leading lights of the British avant-garde in the post war period. He name is synonymous with the group of artists (also including Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull) who made up the so called ‘Geometry of Fear’ movement, who exhibited in the ‘New Aspects of British Sculpture’ in the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale,1952.
Adams started his career as a carver of stone and wood, in the tradition of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. His interests however soon developed, becoming increasingly abstract. Adams held his first one man show at the Gimpel Fils Gallery in London, in 1947; during this period, he was also a teacher at the Slade School of Art, where he met like mind artists working in constructed abstract art – including Victor Pasmore, and Kenneth and Mary Martin. The next year, in 1948 this transformation to abstraction was further developed when Adams visited Paris, and was exposed to the sculpture of Pablo Picasso, Julio Gonzales, Constantine Brancusi, and Henry Laurens.
In the 1950’s Adams’ reputation was propelled with exhibitions at the International Arts Program in New York (where he met artists Alexander Calder and Robert Motherwell); a second solo show at Gimpels in London; a major commission for the Festival of Britain in 1951, and significantly at the 1952 Venice Biennale. In fitting with the materials and language that the ‘Geometry of Fear’ group worked in, Adams’ approach to sculpture changed from carving, to working in bronze and welded iron, and also cast concrete – essentially modern materials.
A decade later, Adams was honoured again in Venice, this time with a joint exhibition with Hubert Dalwood at the British Pavilion, showing a series of welded ‘screens’. It is these flat panelled sculptures that form the artist’s lasting legacy.
Adams also completed several important commissions, the most famous being a huge relief at the Gelsenkirchen in Germany. His sculpture is held in important public collections worldwide, including Tate, London, and MOMA, New York.
Relief at Musiktheater im Revier, 1959, concrete, Gelsenkirchen in Germany
Maquette for Screen at New Custom House, Heathrow Airport, 1967 is archetypal of Adams’ interest in the relief screen form, and represents his most famous British version of that format. The commission was to design two screens to go either side of the entrance to New Custom House at Heathrow, designed by architects Manning and Clamps. The horizontal beams were designed to float against the form of the building, and were finished with silvered effect to give them a sense of weightlessness (this colouration is still apparent on the maquette; although is unfortunately lost due to rusting on the full scale version)
Made at the height of the sculptor’s fame, the current maquette for the right hand screen is the unique model for the full sized version (over 3m in length).
Right Hand Screen, 1967, steel, New Custom House, Heathrow Airport