Sculpting for Utopia PhD Thesis (R Crowther Library Oct 2023)

PhD Thesis

Crowther, R. 2023. Sculpting for Utopia PhD Thesis (R Crowther Library Oct 2023). PhD Thesis
AuthorsCrowther, R.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameSculpting for Utopia? The outdoor sculptures of Harlow New Town 1946-1980: their context and legacy

With the passing of the New Towns Act in 1946, Harlow New Town in Essex was born and became a showcase for the Labour government’s utopian vision for the reconstruction of Britain after the Second World War. Influenced by the ideals of Robert Owen, William Morris and Ebenezer Howard, beautification and artistic paternalism were at the heart of this vision and, in the three decades that followed, around forty outdoor, predominately modern, figurative sculptures were acquired and sited permanently around the town.
The thesis connects the sculptures with their political, aesthetic and physical contexts, and offers a response to art historian John Tagg’s exhortation to ask, not ‘What does an art object express?’ but, ‘What does it do?’ (Tagg, 1992, p. 43). Consequently, the answers obtained in this study demonstrate: i) the significance of context for the local patronage, acquisition and siting of Harlow’s sculptures; ii) the extent to which Harlow’s cultural policies and sculptural acquisitions satisfy the post-war Labour government’s utopian ideals; iii) the impact of the policies and discourses associated with the sculptures acquired before 1980 on Harlow’s more recent commissions and public art strategies; and iv) Harlow’s progress from the ‘democratisation of culture’ towards ‘cultural democracy’.
Section One, Creating Utopia, situates the sculptures in the political context of the post-war Labour government’s welfarist policies and its paternalistic commitment to state support for the arts. The section demonstrates how these centralised principles were applied locally to the design, planning and development of Harlow New Town. Section Two, Sculpture for Utopia, analyses the sculptures in the contexts of their physical environment and locations in the Town Centre or neighbourhoods and shows how, by reflecting political principles, patronage and a commitment to ‘the democratisation of culture’, Harlow Art Trust brought a diverse range of outdoor sculptures to the town. The final section, From ‘Pram Town’ to ‘Sculpture Town’, addresses two related issues: firstly, the heritage of Moore’s Family Group and the sculpture’s historical narrative of social democracy and humanism; secondly, the ways in which Harlow Art Trust has evolved the post-war sculptural legacy while maintaining its aspiration to bring ‘fine art’ to the ‘everyday spaces’ of Harlow’s local residents.
By applying this contextual approach to a tightly defined location displaying a large number of sculptures from a particular historical period, this thesis provides an original contribution to our knowledge of the study of post-war outdoor urban sculpture that is relevant and transferable to studies of outdoor urban sculpture beyond the boundaries of Harlow New Town. By providing clear answers to the question, ‘What do the sculptures do?’, this study identifies the origins, legacy, heritage and evolution of the Harlow sculptures and, most significantly, shows that the New Town sculptures merit more than a footnote to studies of modern outdoor sculpture.

KeywordsPost-war public sculpture; British public sculpture; Harlow New Town sculpture
PublisherCollege of Arts, Humanities and Education, University of Derby
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
File Access Level
Output statusUnpublished
Publication process dates
Deposited05 Oct 2023
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