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In straitened times, power of sculpture to inspire is explored at outdoor exhibition
‘Symphony for the Bull’ by Peter Walker. Photo: Steve Russell Studios Ltd.

LEICESTER.- Leicester’s Botanic Garden is to be transformed into an inspirational outdoor gallery for world-class artists dedicated to the visionary landscape of Professor Sir Robert Burgess, the man who created this international sculpture exhibition.

The exhibition will explore the relationship between art and education in the magnificent setting of the 16-acre Harold Martin Botanic Garden at the University of Leicester.

Co-curator Helaine Blumenfeld said: “The English essayist and playwright Joseph Addison wrote ‘what sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul.’ It is fitting that in this exhibition featuring world-class artists we celebrate the extraordinary contribution and commitment of Sir Robert Burgess to education and sculpture.”

Professor Burgess retires in September after 15 years’ service during which he has transformed the University of Leicester making it one of the leading institutions in the country, consistently ranked in the top 20 and winning many accolades – including Queen’s Anniversary Prizes and the title of University of the Year.

He said: “It has been a real pleasure to develop an international sculpture show at the University that has become a regular feature of the past 13 years. The show brings the Gardens alive during the summer months and encourages a wide range of visitors to come into the University and the City. Once again, the works on show are a diverse range that are of very high quality. I am indebted to the support of guest curators, artists and members of the University staff for making it such a success.”

A total of 45 sculptures by 33 carefully selected, internationally-acclaimed artists will be on show from June 15 to October 26.

"We've chosen grand, monumental sculptures that will take people to an unreal place; a place where they can dream," says Helaine Blumenfeld OBE, who is co-curating the show with John Sydney Carter. "A public exhibition shouldn't be self-indulgent, it should be an effort to enrich people's lives. Sculpture has a way of energising people - and I want to bring that to Leicester."

"It's a world-class international show with work from Belgium, Germany, Italy, the US, the UK and Venezuela' adds Sydney Carter, a celebrated metal-worker and Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.

The spectacular works are highlighted by a stainless steel 'Asteroid' by HEX, Robin Bell's three-and-a-half-metre wide bronze eagle, Angela Connor's sensuous 'Rocking Lady', and an elevated melancholic bronze figure by Hanneke Beaumont. "These large sculptures provoke strong emotional reactions, and that's very exciting," Blumenfeld notes.

“This year’s exhibition is absolutely amazing – and it is homage to Leicester's outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Bob Burgess. I received an honorary doctorate from the University 13 years ago, and at that time, I suggested doing a small sculpture show," recalls Blumenfeld, whose work has been shown in over 70 exhibitions worldwide. "Bob loved the idea! And it is because of his vision that the exhibition has been so successful over the years since. That's why I wanted to co-curate this show in his honour.

“Art and education both have the power to nourish the human soul, to inspire people to make a spiritual connection with themselves and the world around them, to reach beyond the things that are binding within our society, to liberate. It was in this spirit that the first Sculpture in the Garden exhibition was launched in 2002, with a vision that sculpture should re-enter the everyday landscape of people, not only to be seen in museums and art galleries, but on the streets, in parks and in front of public buildings, to take its place as part of a restoration of the Public Spirit. Sculpture in the Garden’s enduring popularity shows how the academic and artistic worlds can work together to promote an interest and delight in the highest quality of sculpture.”

Sydney Carter said: “Those of us who have been privileged to be involved with this exhibition year after year have seen it develop from what was a very modest show in 2002 to a significant sculptural event attracting world-class sculptors. Sculpture in the Garden has become an eagerly anticipated summer event for visitors from all over the United Kingdom and beyond. The growth and success of this exhibition can be traced to the support of Sir Robert Burgess. It was his vision that brought together the sculptors, gardeners and everyone that helps make this exhibition a success, all of who believe that sculpture, in its many manifestations, has the power to engage – even on occasions to transform – the viewer by its presence. Sir Robert Burgess’s dedication has enabled his vision to become reality – a landscape filled with sculpture that raises awareness and appreciation of beauty, such that everyone visiting the gardens leaves feeling enriched.”

This year’s exhibition includes the work of new sculptors as well as those who have participated in previous years. The work of UK-based, as well international sculptors is featured – there is a return of sculptors from the Italian sculpture centre, Pietrasanta, which was celebrated in the 2003 show.

Studio Sem in Pietrasanta, Italy, is where, in the 1960s, came works by Henry Moore, Alicia Penalba, André Bloc and Georges Adam. Some internationally acclaimed artists to have emerged more recently from Studio Sem, whose works have been displayed at Leicester, include Barry Flanagan, Knut Steen, Maja van Hall and Ans Hey.

Art is expressed in the many nationalities of the artists through a mixture of figurative and abstract work and using a variety of materials – marble, stone, wood, steel, resin, bronze and cast iron.

The curators add: “Amid this diversity certain unifying principles remain – a commitment to artistic expression, craftsmanship and a desire to communicate though sculpture, a direct and fundamental physical experience and interpretation of the world around us.”

Located in Oadby, three miles southeast of Leicester city centre, the University’s diverse botanical garden has been used for scientific research and education since it was established in 1947. The unique 16-acre site houses an arboretum, herb garden, water garden, and a series of glasshouses.

'The Visionary Landscape of Professor Sir Robert Burgess’ runs from June 15 to October 26. The visitor entrance is on Glebe Road, LE2 2LD. The garden is open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm. Entry is free, except on special event days. The paths are suitable for wheelchairs and there are disabled toilets.

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