Posted on 26 February 2022
Since its foundation in 1963, the University has accumulated some 900 pieces of art, currently scattered across its campus. Helena Cox is the woman who has taken on the job of piecing these works together and discovering their potential as a collection.
The paintings, prints, ceramics, pottery, glass and sculpture owned by the University date from the present day all the way back to the 15th Century and include some high profile pieces. "Antiphon" Barbara Hepworth’s famous sculpture, inspired by the wild landscapes of Yorkshire, is currently on loan to The Hepworth Gallery, and "El Dorado" and "Sun and Earth" by the Guyanese abstract artist Aubrey Williams are hanging on the walls of the Tate Modern for the exhibition "Life Between Islands".
Over the coming months, Helena, who is also studying for a PhD in Art History at the University, will be cataloguing and auditing each item with the aim of creating both an accessible collection for the public and a rich research resource.
"Becoming the University of York’s first ever Art Curator is a really unique opportunity to start from scratch with a collection", she says. "York’s campus is like a treasure trove because everywhere I go there is something to discover.
"I think my appointment signifies the University's commitment to art and culture and the wide benefits these bring for both the academic community and the public. York is a city with an internationally significant cultural scene and we want to put the University’s art on the map as an important part of what the City has to offer."
Helena was born in Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia. Before settling in Britain, Helena worked at the National Museum in Prague and conducted extensive research across Japan. She joins the University from the Beverley Art Gallery in East Yorkshire, where she curated national and international artistic projects and researched the gallery's Victorian and Edwardian fine art.
Helena has big ambitions for the University collection, which is estimated to be worth in the region of £4 million. She has already started an exhibition project with Art History undergraduate students to give them hands-on experience of curation.
"The art collection is an amazing asset for teaching and research. I want to make curation part of the curriculum for York’s Art students so they can enhance their experiences and gain skills that are sought-after in the industry and with employers", she says.
Helena also plans to revive the University’s little-used sculpture trail: "Many people don’t know that we have 15 beautiful sculptures dotted around campus West. We will be developing the sculpture trail into a sculpture park experience and more indoor displays of artwork will be popping up all over the campus.
"We want to use the unique blend of nature and artwork the University has to offer to make our campus more accessible to the local community than it ever has been before."
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