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Key early work by “the unsung Queen of British performance Art” acquired for York Art Gallery

24 August 2016 By

The Contemporary Art Society is excited to share the recent acquisition of Quadrille (1975) and Rose on Horseback with Tail (1974/2012) by Rose English (b. 1950) for York Art Gallery.

Described by The Observer as “the unsung Queen of British performance Art”, English is an interdisciplinary artist who has been writing, directing and performing her own work for over 35 years. Her productions feature diverse groups of co-performers, including musicians, dancers, circus performers, magicians and horses, and often include elements from opera, circus and high society events.

Quadrille (1975) is a film of one of the artist’s earliest performance works, staged in the dressage arena of an equestrian event in Southampton. Six women appear, dressed as horses, wearing aprons that cover their upper bodies, leather harnesses, horse tails and hoof-shaped high heels. In an outdoor area marked off by ceramic horse figurines. Watched eagerly by an unsuspecting audience, the women perform a dance based on dressage, their movements stilted by their cumbersome shoes. Full of beauty, humour, playfulness and criticism, the work highlights the fetishisation of women’s bodies and explores issues around gender roles, whereby dressage can be seen as a metaphor for power struggles and relationships.

This new acquisition strengthens and develops York Art Gallery’s growing collection of contemporary art relating to ‘flesh’ and the body. It is particularly significant as it is the first work to enter York’s collection in the field of performance and prefigures the work of artists such as Helen Chadwick, also in the Gallery’s collection.

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2015