A small update on the Bowness collection


In an earlier blog post on this subject, my colleague Mel explained that Professor Sir Alan Bowness had generously donated several thousand items from his personal library, mainly consisting of exhibition catalogues and related ephemera such as private view cards. Slowly but steadily, these items have been making their way into iDiscover as we work through the collection. In this blog post, I’ll talk about the slightly smaller c size catalogues (between 22 and 25 cm in height) that I’ve been working on since last autumn (classified under Bowness.c.), but many of the larger catalogues (sizes a and b) have also been catalogued and are available to browse under the Bowness classmark.

It is an eclectic collection of catalogues, documenting the exhibitions of sculptors, etchers, woodcut and linocut artists, installation artists, pop artists and painters, mostly from the 1980s (when Sir Alan was Director of the Tate), 1990s and 2000s. The exhibitions are largely located in the UK (many in London and St Ives, Cornwall, as you might expect), but there are also numerous exhibitions from further afield – including several at the André Emmerich Gallery in New York and Phillip King’s 1997 sculpture show at the Forte di Belvedere in Florence (Bowness.c.49).

The physical nature of the catalogues themselves also varies: the majority are straightforward illustrated booklets and leaflets, but there are also portfolios of postcards and other much more polished publications, including a Spanish/English catalogue for “Joyas de Anthony Caro”, published in 2006 to coincide with an exhibition of the sculptor’s works of jewellery at Joyería Grassy in Madrid (Bowness.c.13). Some of the catalogues in the collection also have private view cards and price lists tucked inside, which is noted in the holding information in the catalogue.


Artists featured in the collection include Gilbert & George, Frank Bowling, Cy Twombly, Helen Frankenthaler, Kumi Sugai, Maggi Hambling, Agnes Martin, Christiaan Karel Appel and Sol Lewitt. Here are a few catalogues featuring other artists that have made a particular impression:

  • a catalogue reproducing works from Hans Haacke’s controversial 1981 exhibit “Der Pralinenmeister” (The Chocolate Maker), which critically examined the business practices of influential art collector and chocolate magnate, Peter Ludwig (Bowness.c.36). Ludwig had been keen to purchase the collection himself, but Haacke wouldn’t allow it, worried that the works would be stashed away where no one could see them. The Museum Ludwig in Cologne went on to acquire “Der Pralinenmeisterin 2018, aided by Haacke.
    • Note: the catalogue is in German, but there is a separate printed English translation tucked inside.
  • a catalogue for “I was Lonelyness”, a retrospective exhibition of Namibian artist John Muafangejo’s black and white prints, curated by Orde Levinson and held at Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art in 1990 (Bowness.c.66). Following the exhibition, Levinson published The African dream (1992) about Muafangejo’s work, which is also held by the Library (404:8.b.95.25).
    • Muafangejo worked with etching, woodcut and linocut, combining expressive imagery and text to create moving, powerful and sometimes humorous narrative pieces. His prints are known for their autobiographical content, for depicting the history of the Ovambo people, and for their social and political commentary. John Muafangejo’s work was created amidst the struggle for Namibian independence, but he sadly died three years before it was finally achieved in 1990.
  • a catalogue of Margaret Mellis’ “Relief constructions and envelope drawings” at the Redfern Gallery in 1990, featuring her use of found items as a basis for her art, including composite driftwood sculptures and the backs of envelopes as canvases (Bowness.c.64). In the early part of her career, Mellis formed part of an avant garde art community in Cornwall, alongside Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson (Sir Alan’s parents-in-law), who lived with her for a short period.
  • a catalogue for “Graham Crowley: the flower show” at the Lamont Gallery in 1998 that has been signed by the artist (Bowness.c.19).

One final item that stands out for me is the exhibition guide for Antony Gormley’s 2007 “Blind Light” at The Hayward Gallery (Bowness.c.32). The exhibition’s feature was a large glass box filled with mist and light, the interior of which visitors explored tentatively with outstretched arms, the idea being (in Gormley’s words) to overturn the idea of architecture as “the location of security and certainty about where you are” and to bring the outside inside. Such an exhibit would be inconceivable in these current times of social distancing, but it did make me think of our emergence from lockdown, as we have found new ways to navigate familiar spaces that have been made a little strange by circumstance. As I have been writing this blog post, art galleries and museums have started to reopen and are rethinking their use of space to accommodate new safety guidelines; so too are our brilliant teams at the UL, who are currently hard at work on the phased recovery plan for the Library’s physical collections and exhibitions.

Suzanne Edgar


Antony Gormley on “Blind Light”: http://www.antonygormley.com/projects/item-view/id/241

Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst on “Der Pralinenmeister”: https://gesellschaft-museum-ludwig.de/en/initiativen-und-preise/erwerbungen/erwerbung/1687/der-pralinenmeister

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