Thomas J Price at the V&A
Eight sculptures by contemporary, London-born sculptor Thomas J Price are being displayed amongst the Victoria and Albert’s permanent sculpture collection for free until May 2024. A deliberate drawing of attention to themes of power and representation is created by building a dialogue between the pieces through their placement. The artist has said that he “wants people to recognise themselves and feel valued” through the intervention. The works are provided courtesy of the artist and Hauser and Wirth. They are cast in deliberately non-life-size proportions, either bigger or smaller than a person could be, to catch the eye.
In the V&A’s Exhibition Road Courtyard greeting visitors as they arrive is Moments Contained (2022), a large-scale depiction of a Black woman dressed casually in a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms. The stance of her hands in her pockets could convey nonchalance – or a feigned attempt at it, suggesting a level of discomfort, showing how not everyone feels comfortable in a traditional museum environment. The ambiguity of her pose is intriguing and feels fresh. Instead of depicting a dramatic scene from antiquity, this sculpture is more understated and layered. The sculptures are all taken from composites of everyday people, so this is a representative more than figurative work.
Lay It Down (On The Edge of Beauty) (2018) is a bust of a Black woman made from bronze polished up to look like gold. According to Melanie Vandenbrouck, the V&A’s curator of sculpture from 1900 to today, the decision to place this piece amongst 18th-century busts of women by artists like Samuel Joseph was “very deliberate and was about beauty and recognition”. The hair in a bun echoes the hairstyles of the earlier pieces, creating a visual link.
Signals is placed near to Samson and the Philistines by Vincenzo Foggini, the arm lift of the former echoing that of the latter but for different reasons. In the Samson work, the arm is raised at the moment of committing an act of violence – in Signals it is the gesture of taking a selfie or looking for phone signal. It highlights assumptions made about Black people and their intentions, and asks questions about how some violence is deemed heroic and some deemed gratuitous and who decides on the distinction.
It is a thought-provoking display that plays with our expectations of sculpture.
Thomas J Price is at the V&A from 22nd July until 27th May 2024. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.