Article by: Dave Roberts - First Published: 30 March 2011
Androgyne, pronounced AN-DRA-JYNE was the result of a nationwide competition for a sculpture - for that (Merrion Centre, Leeds) specific position. It has become a mysterious, if not controversial piece, not least because it is incorrectly described on many websites including that of the BBC as being made from fibreglass. Indeed, the sculpture is quite obviously cast in aluminium, as such it carries many of the hallmarks of its method including casting marks. Close inspection reveals several areas of green oxidisation which is natural occurrence on aluminium, but not on fibreglass. Glenn Hellman told me that whilst the layman can be forgiven, it frustrates him when people who should know better describe it as fibreglass - such as a college lecturer, but he didn't name any individual.
"I can't imagine that the Merrion Centre would have had it recast and then moved it."
As is now often the case, during our creation of this archive of accessible to the public artworks, we are discovering many inaccuracies about the descriptions of well know pieces of art. Part of our mission is to create an accruate record of public art that becomes a reliable source of information.
The sculpture of Androgyne was created by Hellman during his year as a post graduate at Hornsey. Describing the work he said:
"The myth of the Androgynes is relevant to the title. They were a race of people joined with the perfect partner who because of their perfection, in time became so arrogant that that they angered the Gods so much that they split them asunder and ever since we have wandered the world seeking our other half.
"The title came after the work."
"This destruction is a recurring theme in my work, but not the only one. Forms tearing themselves apart, or if you are a 'glass half full' person, then healing themselves. Personally I think the glass is down to the dregs."
Glenn went on to tell me that the details of this work owe quite a bit to Egyptian sculpture.
"I do not chose a theme or a title, which is merely a name to identify the work, but think of forms and space. I went to art school when we were taught to look at things, to draw, to get to feel them, understand their internal structures, feel space, not as where something isn't but something tangible that is displaced by and flows around the things existing in it.
"One of the tutors at Hornsey was an Australian, Neil Stocker who had been an assistant to Henry Moore, who influenced me, ( but not to make sub Moores) and of course working with Robert Adams helped a lot."
The national competition which resulted in Androgyne was brought to life during the time of the late Israel Arnold Ziff OBE. Arnold Ziff was Chairman of Town Centre Securities PLC, founders of the Merrion Centre.
Ziff was born in Leeds 31 January 1927, where he attended both Roundhay School and Leeds University. He inherited his father's shoe company Stylo, and formed the property company 'Town Centre Securities' in 1959.
Stylo Barratt were one of the original retailer occupiers of the Merrion Centre where they still operate to this day. Town Centre Securities still own the Merrion Centre.
Androgyne was completed in 1965, at that time the Merrion Centre was a new open air shopping mall, the piece taking pride of place close to Ziff's own shop: 'Stylo' and also close to the 'Mecca' night club, signalling to all the love of art felt by Arnold Ziff. Benches were arranged around the piece where people were encouraged to sit enjoying the view, the ambience.
The term Androgyny is derived from the Greek word andros, meaning man and gyné, meaning woman - referring to the combination of both masculine and feminine characteristics. A person who does not fit cleanly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of their society. Androgyne was once used as a synonym for hermaphrodite.
Nowadays the piece is hidden away in a poorly sited position close to the rear of the centre, it can be viewed within a small dark and neglected courtyard which is part of the un-used pedestrian underpass of Claypit Lane. It's an unpleasant and unwelcoming setting for a piece of fine art.
Born: Walthamstow: 1938.
Regular Army: 1956-59.
Art education: 1959-61 Walthamstow School of Art.
Hornsey College of Art DipAD: 1961-63
Hornsey Post Dip in electrotyping: 1963-64. Assistant to Robert Adams.
Competitive commissions: Merrion Centre Leeds and Cofeb Llywelyn Caernarvon.
One man exhibitions:
Leicester Galleries London (2).
Roland browse & Delbanco London (1).
Morley Gallery London (1).
Group and themed shows:
Numerous in London, the Provinces and Wales.
Several including the National Eisteddfod 1976 and Mid Wales Open and West Wales Open.
Work in private collections in: Gt. Britain, Australia, and the USA.
COMMENT BY: James W Bell
It has recently been removed from it's site. Can anyone shed light on why this has happened?
COMMENT BY: Dave Roberts
James, a staff member at Merrion Centre has told us that Androgyne is currently in storage while construction works are being carried out. That the plan is to return it to position when the works are completed.
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