The first exhibition to focus exclusively on the bronze sculptures of celebrated artist Keith Coventry opens at The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle on 14 July.


Coventry is a key member of what has been termed the ‘Sensation’ generation who came to prominence in the 1990s on the wave of interest in British artists. He has since become an established (if not an ‘Establishment) artist whose work is in collections such as the Tate, London and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.


Although known primarily as a painter, Coventry has always made iconic bronzes throughout his career, but only now is an exhibition being staged to focus on this body of work. All his major pieces will feature in Keith Coventry 'Black Bronze White Slaves', including Looted Shop Front, Kebab Machine, Supermodel (Kate Moss) and Crack Pipe, along with eight examples of his White Slave series, and five of his broken trees, two of which are new.


Coventry has previously said of his work that he looks at the history of art, and at a social issue and then combines the two. The themes of his bronzes are those of a universal nature: desperation, revolution, the unsettling of political order, the decline of society and a belief in art and its restorative powers, which has led curator Greville Worthington to describe the exhibition as well timed.


“With recent riots and mistrust of the political order, questions are asked of art and its powers to engage with audiences about universal themes in a time of change,” said Greville, a former Turner Prize judge, who expects the show to exude . . . a dark and menacing feel, taking the viewer into a world of drug taking, prostitution and urban lowlife.


“When seen collectively, these works cover succinctly the main themes of Coventry’s oeuvre,” he added. “They use the monumentality of bronze, and its association with the heroic and established order, to undermine its traditional role and engage with the crack addict, the urban vandal and the lonely guy eating a kebab on his way home drunk, and in doing so allow the material to fulfil an altogether different function.”


The themes of Coventry’s work can be found, portrayed in a variety of ways, running through The Bowes Museum’s collection. This exhibition will, within the context of the Museum, seek to activate a further understanding of the permanent collection in relation to the bronzes.

“It’s also appropriate that this exhibition is timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth,” said Greville. “It chimes with many of the concerns for the underdog and dispossessed which Dickens and Coventry share.”