- Helen Brady
This partnership between Ben Uri and The London Group is a revealing reflection on the two institutions’ entwined histories. The London Group was founded by a grouping of free-spirited artists in 1913. A number of them experimented with Cubism and Futurism and were determined to embrace the new practice and movements arriving from Europe, particularly France, to set a new artistic agenda for a new century. Founded in opposition to the Royal Academy, The London Group quickly became a magnet for iconoclastic talents and an exhibiting forum for progressive artists, who were often considered rebellious, and even in some quarters, scandalous, during these crucial early decades.
Ben Uri was founded less than two years later, in July 1915, in the Jewish ghetto in London’s East End, also in response to establishment prejudice and exhibiting restrictions. In this instance, the artists (irrespective of their practice) were ‘outsiders’ as they were both Jewish and were mostly immigrants, or the children of foreign-speaking immigrants, who were seeking an exhibition platform.
The London Group exploded onto the British art scene in 1913 as a radical alternative to the art establishment and in the wake of two modernist exhibiting platforms, Frank Rutter’s liberal Allied Artists’ Association and The Camden Town Group, headed by Walter Sickert, whose members were absorbed by the new group. The first official meeting took place on 25 October 1913, and Jacob Epstein is credited with coining the Group’s name the following month. The opening of the centenary show coincides closely with these two significant dates.
Entitled Uproar! to reflect the press reaction to their early controversial exhibitions, curators Rachel Dickson and Sarah MacDougall have created a show that includes fifty works from fifty different artists who were members of the Group between 1913 and 1963. Composed mainly of pieces that were exhibited in London Group shows in the past, many works have been loaned from prestigious public and private collections across the UK whilst some come from the Ben Uri permanent collection.
The exhibition will feature artists and works which highlight each decade covering the full range of the London Group’s history: its inception; its Camden Town Group roots; the controversy of the early (particularly First World War) years; Bloomsbury domination in the 1920s; the strong showing of Jewish artists and women artists; Official War Artists; the participation of émigré artists during the 1930s-40s; the ‘shadow of the right’ during the 1930s; avant-garde sculptors; and the contribution of artists’ groups, ranging from the Vorticists to the Surrealists, the Abstract-Creationists and the Euston Road School.
Wherever possible, Ben Uri has selected the most intensely debated works, whether from within its own collection or beyond it. Featured artists include ground-breaking early modernists such as Sickert, Fry, Gaudier-Brzeska, Nash, Wadsworth, and more recently, Hepworth, Moore, Chadwick and Kossoff, as well as less-known but equally controversial figures such as Eileen Agar, Rodrigo Moynihan and Jessica Dismorr.
Displayed chronologically the exhibition is an education in the development of British Art history. Covering two floors, the show starts with Harold Gilman’s Fauve-influenced portrait of Sylvia Gosse. It also includes well known names like Barbara Hepworth and David before concluding with Leon Kossoff’s expressive charcoal portrait of N M Seedo.
Works have been loaned from prestigious public and private collections across the UK. Institutional lenders include: Aberdeen Art Gallery; the British Council; the British Museum; the Courtauld Gallery; Graves Gallery, Sheffield; the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds; the Hepworth Wakefield; Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and many more.
A 200-page fully illustrated hardback catalogue distributed by Lund Humphries accompanies the exhibition. Contributors will provide contextual entries for each of the 50 works, in tandem with introductory essays by a number of distinguished scholars in the field of modern British art. Writers include Dr Wendy Baron, Dr Jonathan Black, Dr David Boxer, Dr Grace Brockington, David Cleall, Joanna Cheetham, Dr. Richard Cork and several others.
Maya Ingel Fine Arts supports free entry to all Ben Uri exhibitions. Uproar! will run from 31 October 2013–02 March 2014. For more information about visiting, click here.
Ben Uri, 108a Boundary Rd, off Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London NW8 0RH.
Open Sunday – Friday (closed Saturday).
By Helen Brady