A sculpture by the UK artist Thomas J Price, which has sparked a debate around race and immigration in the Netherlands, has gone on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. Another version of the piece Moments Contained (2022), which shows a Black woman standing casually, her hands in her pockets, was unveiled in early June on the station forecourt of Rotterdam Centraal station.
The work in Rotterdam was acquired at Art Basel last year by the non-profit Droom en Daad Foundation (the philanthropic arm of the Netherlands' billionaire Van der Vorm family), which then donated the work to the city of Rotterdam. According to The Guardian, the bronze work “provoked a storm in this port city where 55% of the population has migrant origins”. The piece has also reportedly been incorporated into the education curriculum on the Netherlands’ history of colonialism and slavery.
A spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of education, culture and science tells The Art Newspaper: "It is true that Dutch colonial history (and slavery) is part of the core objectives in secondary education. Schools may interpret the core objectives themselves so they may also use contemporary art to teach pupils about it. Not every school uses the [Price] statue in their programme."
Moments Contained stands in the Exhibition Road Courtyard of the V&A, greeting visitors as they enter the museum. Eight works by Price are dotted around the site as part of a free display (until 27 May 2024), with a number of works on show in the Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries; these include Lay It Down (On The Edge of Beauty) (2018), a lifesize sculpted head of a woman made of polished bronze.
At a press briefing, Melanie Vandenbrouck, the V&A's curator of sculpture from 1900 to today, said that the sculpture placements are “very deliberate”. The head of a woman is on show amongst refined 18th-century depictions of Western women by artists such as Samuel Joseph. Price commented that the work is about “beauty and recognition”.
“Schoolgirls are looking at her… this is about celebrating everyone rather than a few privileged individuals,” added Vandenbrouck, who says that Price’s works are prompting the V&A to think about the nature of its collections and “who is represented and who isn’t”. In a statement, Price adds that he grew up visiting the V&A and was “acutely aware of the absence of figurative works I could relate to”.
Standing in front of another work, Signals (2021), Vandenbrouck said that “Price’s [work] really speaks to the material, thematic and compositional language of sculpture”. Signals shows a track-suited individual searching for a mobile connection (or taking a selfie perhaps). There is an “assumption of suspicion” with the figure, Price says. The work is set against Vincenzo Foggini’s brutal sculpture Samson and the Philistines (1749).
Indeed, Price is currently having a moment; his sculpture Reaching Out (2021) also stands in the entrance of the newly refurbished National Portrait Gallery in London.