Art-historian and biographer, James Hamilton reports on the Terry Friedman colloquium and book launch.
Terry Friedman, a large, argumentative, contradictory American, had a rich and wholesome talent for making enemies. There were those in Leeds City Council who turned their eyes up in terror at his approach; keepers of print rooms chewed nails to the quick when they heard Terry was coming (one keeper threw him out, and banned him thereafter); property developers felt the earth shake when Terry was known to object to their plans. But most people who came across Terry Friedman loved him dearly and saw the point.
Thus a large body of friends and colleagues, historians, artists, curators, teachers and gallery visitors with long memories came together in May 2015 at what used to be known as Leeds City Art Gallery to celebrate the life and achievement of the man from Detroit who had seen the point of Leeds. Unusual though it may be for a sophisticated big-city American to find a home in Yorkshire, the big-city boldness of Leeds struck a chord in Terry who made it his life’s work to reveal to the world what an energetic, spirited and architecturally courageous city Leeds was. From Broderick’s Town Hall and the seventeenth-century St John’s Church to the revival of Temple Newsam House as place of learning and the conception of the Henry Moore Institute, Terry cared for them all and, with subtle creativity, influenced their fortunes and futures.
So, with their own subtle creativity, the editors of Cornucopia and the organisers of the colloquium, James Lomax, Evelyn Silber and Christopher Webster, brought together many of us who have cause to be grateful to Terry and wished to say so. We heard Graham Parry on Terry as a critic of eighteenth century architecture; Melanie Hall on Terry as a teacher; and Corinne Miller and Nigel Walsh on Terry as a colleague. Highly amusing and entertaining these were – Melanie recalled how Terry refused to allow his students to take notes during museum visits: they had to look, though they could draw; Nigel remembered how one artist remarked that the only difference between Terry’s flat in Chapel Allerton (‘Palazzo Friedman’ as he called it) and an art gallery was that there were no labels in the flat; and Evelyn recalled a head-banging session between Terry and Nick Serota at the Whitechapel: both were obsessed with getting the display of the Epstein show just right, and as time ran out on the press day an argument over a particularly fiddly case construction provided a flash point. Evelyn had to pull the boys apart. Then we heard Anita Lovelace on Terry as collector, and finally George Meyrick and Rob Ward on Terry’s work with artists. Terry was with us at every turn, but it would take more than a day session to track all his achievements in the public service.
It is a rare bird whose serious intellectual achievement embraces the study of eighteenth century church architecture, for which he won the Berger Art Book Prize in 2013, as well as the promotion and collecting of contemporary art, but Terry was indeed a rare bird landing on our shores. In addition to George Meyrick and Rob Ward, other significant artists including Andy Goldsworthy (now OBE), Peter Randall-Page (now RA) and Antony Gormley (now Sir Antony) felt the warm touch of Terry’s beneficence and courage at early and crucial stages in their careers. Nevertheless he failed to see the importance of some artists – I could never understand how he could misread the status and passion of the Yorkshire-Hungarian artist Gyorgy Gordon, or his mildly patronising attitude towards the work of the sculptor Austin Wright. Well, as Dryden so eloquently put it, ‘Homer nods’.
The essays in Cornucopia, the volume that was launched at the Leeds colloquium, attempt to span the wide expanse that Terry himself straddled. The biographer of James Gibbs and the champion of Jacob Epstein and Claes Oldenburg must have a hinterland ripe for exploration. Every subject covered by the seventeen authors reflects something of the catholicity of interest of this extraordinary man. Architecture of course is prominent, including Patrick Eyres on Gibbs at Wentworth Castle, Richard Hewlings on Gibbs at Raby Castle (much Gibbs in the book, as you would expect), Charles Hind on an album of architectural drawings by Thomas Hardwick in the RIBA archive, an unpublished article by the late Derek Linstrum on a design for the entrance and staircase of Leeds Town Hall, and Penelope Curtis on Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in Leeds. Then sculpture: Melanie Hall on the sculpture in Leeds City Square; Evelyn Silber on Gaudier-Brzeska, Katharine Eustace on Laurence Bradshaw’s Maternity in Oxford and Jon Wood on Epstein’s Flenite Relief. Other subjects include Karin Walton on an eighteenth century trade dispute, Rosamund Allwood on the genesis of Letchworth Garden City, Anthony Wells-Cole on Philip Hendy at Temple Newsam and Daru Rooke on a group of late-nineteenth century photographs of Cliffe Castle, Keighley. Other authors not noted here are James Lomax, Adam White, Christopher Webster and James Hamilton.
Cornucopia is a monument to a fine curator and teacher, one built by a team of the many who loved him. Brainchild of Lomax, Silber and Webster, Cornucopia is published by the Leeds Art Fund (formerly the Leeds Permanent Art Fund) which Terry variously fostered and cajoled, and it is a further tribute to Terry that admiration for his life and work stretches equally to so large a constituency as the Fund. The book is rightly called Cornucopia, for Terry was fruitful, generous and classically-aware; but the cover image is surely a mistake – while Terry had reams to say and write on many subjects, it is the case that late nineteenth century painting in general, and James Tissot in particular, were not among them. The reason for using the Tissot detail must be because the tower of James Gibbs’ St Martin’s-in-the-Fields appears in the background. Nevertheless it is misleading.
Terry ignored the intellectual barriers that lie between architecture and sculpture, and as a sculpture historian he curated exhibitions that remain resonant to this day: his exhibitions at the City Art Gallery include Joseph Gott (1972), The Man at Hyde Park Corner: Sculpture by John Cheere 1709-1787 (1974, with Timothy Clifford), Henry Moore – Early Carvings (1982, with Anne Garrould and David Mitchinson); Jacob Epstein – Sculpture and Drawings (with Evelyn Silber, 1987), The Hyde Park Atrocity – Epstein’s Rima: Creation and Controversy (1988), A Bottle of Notes and Some Voyages – Sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen (1988) and Hand to Earth: Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture 1976-1990 (1990). Occasionally he would go happily off-piste, as with the pioneering exhibition Surrealism in Britain, which he organised in 1986 with Alex Robertson, Michel Remy and Mel Gooding.
My own gratitude to Terry runs deep and personal. I first met him in the late 1970s when he made a state visit to the Mappin Art Gallery in Sheffield, where I was the Keeper. He was already a legend in Yorkshire, and I can see now his huge form filling one of the ample double doors into the Victorian paintings gallery. I was young and impressionable, and was honoured that a curator as influential as Dr Friedman should take notice of what I was trying to achieve. Following the fundamental changes wrought in public art galleries over the past twenty years, it is probably impossible to rekindle the sense of awe that a professional like Terry could induce in a younger colleague. Years later he introduced me to my wife – actually somebody else already had, but Kate says it was Terry – and he became a fundamental, deep-rooted, unbreakable, never-failing support to me when I became director of the Yorkshire Contemporary Art Group (YCAG) in Leeds in 1984. My responsibilities embraced St Paul’s Gallery, some artists’ studios, a printmaking co-operative and a portfolio of art projects to curate, conceive and manage. In addition I had Leeds City Council to negotiate (which I did rather clumsily), money to raise from sources including the Henry Moore Foundation, and a wild and crazy ambition to make an indelible mark on Leeds. I failed in the latter when Gormley’s Brickman was thrown out by the council (see my essay in Cornucopia), but with Terry’s encouragement and advocacy YCAG left some local memory-traces in exhibitions and projects such as New Art in Yorkshire. For a couple of months in 1987 this pan-city exhibition united St Paul’s Gallery with the City Art Gallery, the Polytechnic Gallery, the University Gallery and the Jacob Kramer College Gallery, with over 260 works by Yorkshire artists, including a piece by the young Damien Hirst. In all these activities Terry never saw or considered the ‘threat’ that YCAG might present to the City Art Gallery and its interests. Lesser administrators might have weighed into it and opposed its growth. Not Terry. He was secure in his ideas, policies and priorities, and saw that an independent cultural force, as for example already active in Bristol, Newcastle and Edinburgh, was an essential factor in the growth of an ambitious city.
It was perhaps inevitable that Terry would not be promoted further in the art life of Leeds: the word ‘budget’ was not in his lexicon. Though his exhibitions were often popular, he had no interest in populism, still less in political correctness. His wings were clipped, and he did not attain the top job he had hoped for, the directorship of the new Henry Moore Centre that he had worked so hard to establish. Politics and personality were against this abrasive, committed and romantic scholar-curator of the rarest kind.
Every city needs a Terry Friedman; but there was only one. Lucky Leeds. Lucky us.
My thanks to Katharine Eustace, Melanie Hall, Evelyn Silber and Nigel Walsh – and all the contributors to Cornucopia and the Colloquium – in the preparation of this article. JH
The Terry Friedman Colloquium and the book launch took place at Leeds Art Gallery on Saturday 16th May 2015
Cornucopia: Essays on Architecture, Sculpture and Decorative Arts in Honour of Terry Friedman (1940-2013), Leeds Art Fund, 2015