Mi­randa Strick­land-Con­sta­ble

The Guardian - - OBITUARIES - James Hamil­ton

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

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