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  • Writer's pictureLaurence Sillars

Henry Moore Institute: Laurence Sillars on 30 years and 1 million visitors

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Leeds' Henry Moore Institute — the sculpture centre inspired by the great British artist — has just turned 30. Here, the Institute's Head Laurence Sillars reflects on the centre's achievements over the past three decades, and how they plan to celebrate.

"This year, the Henry Moore Institute reached the great milestone of 30 years since opening.

Part of the wider Henry Moore Foundation, the Institute launched in Leeds on 21 April 1993 as a centre for the study of sculpture with galleries for temporary exhibitions and a research library.

The Institute grew from the vision of Henry Moore, and latterly his daughter Mary, as part of his desire to give back to the county of his birth and the city where he studied.

Following the First World War, Moore received an ex-serviceman’s grant which enabled him to enrol at Leeds College of Art (now Leeds Arts University). When he began his year-long sculpture course in 1920, the sculpture department was established with Moore as its only student.

Moore struggled to see sculpture locally during his studies. Speaking in 1981, he recalled ‘as a young sculptor, there was nothing; there wasn’t a single piece of sculpture in my hometown.’

His vision changed that and we are proud to continue his legacy, providing a place for everyone to experience, study and enjoy sculpture from around the world for free.

Photograph of Henry Moore between two sculpture casts, working on one of them with a tool
Henry Moore working on the plaster for Two Piece Reclining Figure: Points 1969 (LH 606) Photo: Errol Jackson

Today, with international reach, we contribute to the rich cultural fabric of Leeds and Yorkshire through an array of programmes and events.

We present an annual series of historical, modern and contemporary exhibitions in our galleries, which range from solo presentations by emerging and established sculptors to thematic and group exhibitions.

As one of the world’s leading specialist sculpture resources, our Sculpture Research Library offers inspiration in over 30,000 art books, journals and ephemera in beautiful reading rooms.

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The library also houses Leeds City Council’s Archive of Sculptors’ Papers, which captures the working lives of hundreds of sculptors in rich and fascinating collections of photographs, letters, drawings and sketchbooks available for anyone to see by appointment.

We work closely with students and academics hosting research events, discussions and conferences.

Our annual programme of Visiting Research Fellowships gives artists and art historians the

opportunity to spend a month researching in our library and the archive.

Visitors can currently see Rebecca Fortnum’s fascinating exhibition Les Praticiennes, inspired by her 2021-22 Research Fellowship spent searching for little-known portrait sculptures produced by women who worked in, or visited, Rodin’s studio in Paris.

We also host a lively engagement programme, which works to ensure that there’s plenty for families to do when they visit, as well as welcoming schools and running special projects around the city.

Yorkshire is the home of sculpture in this country and we work alongside many partner organisations including The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to continue our commitments to sculptors today and of the past through exhibitions and acquisitions.

Photograph of the building housing the Henry Moore Institute
Facade of Leeds' Henry Moore Institute

In Leeds, our work is expanded through a unique partnership with Leeds Art Gallery to manage the sculpture collection and archive of Leeds Museums and Galleries, a collaboration that has built one of the strongest public collections of sculpture in Britain. We have made 700 acquisitions with Leeds City Council for Leeds’ Sculpture Collection, along with a significant number of works on paper.

Recently, through a special partnership with Contemporary Art Society and Cathy Wills, we have purchased works by Emii Alrai, Phyllida Barlow, Hew Locke and Ro Robertson, continuing our commitment to both established and younger sculptors working in Britain.

Over the past 30 years, we have displayed the work of 731 artists from around the world, presented 224 exhibitions, acquired 30,000 books, publications, journals, audio-visual resources and ephemera in the Sculpture Research Library, hosted 140 Visiting Research Fellows in the Library and Archive of Sculptors’ Papers, alongside the works acquired for the collection.

We have welcomed over one million visitors and given numerous artists their first solo exhibition.

To celebrate our 30th birthday, we have a display looking at the making of the building — A Site for Sculpture: Building the Institute — which runs until 7 July.

We are also running a competition that invites anyone to redesign the facade of our building — something of a sculpture in its own right and designed by architects Dixon Jones — as part of our engagement programme.

Visitors to the Institute can currently see our exhibition of American sculptor Michael E. Smith and this summer we open The Weight of Words, a group exhibition exploring the relationship between poetry and sculpture with highlights including a new large-scale, site-specific commission by acclaimed poet Vahni Capildeo covering our facade, alongside works by Tim Etchells, Doris Salcedo, Emma Hart, Glenn Ligon, Slavs and Tatars and more.

It is quite something to reflect upon what the Institute has achieved over the past three decades."

Laurence Sillars has been Head of the Henry Moore Institute since 2017. From 2009-17 he was Chief Curator at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. He was part of the Curatorial Committee for the Liverpool Biennial in 2004, 2006 and 2008.


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