My former colleague Miranda Strickland-Constable was a curator at Leeds City Art Gallery, where her purchases were among the most adventurous by municipal galleries throughout Britain in the 1970s and 80s. In themselves courageous, they gave courage to other curators to capture the same progressive spirit.
Hers were highly cerebral artists, often introduced to Leeds in the face of opposition from a conservative local audience and sceptical politicians, and in whose work, more than likely using non-traditional media, the image assumed unfamiliar, teasing and even jarring form. Among her acquisitions were Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Three Pit Heads (1977), Richard Long’s Five Stones (1975), John Walker’s Three Reds (1968), Hamish Fulton’s Arran Hilltops (1978) and works by Rita Donagh, Victor Burgin and Andy Goldsworthy. Drawing on her special interest in photography, for the Arts Council of Great Britain she organised the national touring exhibition Artist and Camera (1980-81).
Displaying a new piece of sculpture was for Miranda as much an art as creating it was for the artist. I remember attendants becoming increasingly frustrated as they were asked to move one element of an assemblage, perhaps a twist of plastic, three centimetres to the left, or adjust another element by two degrees, while making sure it had a clear relationship to the rest of the gallery.
Miranda was born in Oxford, the oldest of four children of Robert Strickland-Constable, a research chemist, and his wife, Lettice (nee Strickland, a distant cousin), who was an artist. The uses of science and the purposes of art ran together in her blood. She won a boarding scholarship to Downe House school, Berkshire.
After studying at the Courtauld Institute in London, she had early curatorial posts as assistant keeper at the Barber Institute, University of Birmingham, and keeper at Bolton Art Gallery, before becoming keeper of art at Leeds in 1966. By then she had arrived at the notion that you have to experience new art, difficult, sharp, uncomfortable art, at the time it is made. New art has context that is 90% volatile, she believed, which is lost if not grasped at the moment of release, the work’s shock value melting away.
With her fair complexion, light touch and flapping headscarves, Miranda was a fragile flame, but when she caught she burned brightly. Capable of anger when thwarted in her work, her arms hard and straight down her sides, her fists clenched and her face furious, she would storm out of meetings or installation sessions.
On retirement from the gallery in 1985, she continued to live in Leeds and to write on art, etch, paint and visit galleries, although a stroke in 2010 left her with dysphasia. She was a governor of Yorkshire Contemporary Art Group in Leeds, where I was director, having first worked alongside her in Yorkshire in 1976.
A niece remembers gifts from Miranda, among them EH Gombrich’s The Story of Art, “because everyone should have a copy”.
She is survived by her sister, Lizbet, and brothers, Fred and Bob, four nieces, two nephews, four great-nieces and a great-nephew.
For curator Miranda Strickland-Constable, displaying a new piece of sculpture was as much an art as creating it was for the artist