Head of Ezra Pound by Henri Gaudier- Brzeska
“One hundred works: painting, sculpture, print”
Jack Newhouse – August 2011
“The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World”, at the Tate Britain, is an interesting exhibition. Vorticism lived for a short period (1914–18), did not flourished, but could propose a new radical avant-garde aesthetic.
“The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World” brings together over 100 works including paintings, sculptures and printed materials. Additionally, on display the rarely seen photography of Alvin Langdon Coburn, claimed as the first ever abstract photographs, together with the newly revealed works by key Vorticists women. The exhibition also includes associated artists such as David Bomberg and C.R.W. Nevinson.
It is difficult to discern Vorticism from much elaborated Cubism and Futurism. Vorticism was led by Canadian painter Wyndham Lewis and named by American poet Ezra Pound. The main members were expatriates like the American sculptor Jacob Epstein, the French Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, the American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn. TE Hulme, philosopher, was its theorist. Vorticism included painters William Roberts, Frederick Etchells and Edward Wadsworth and notably several female members such as Jessica Dismorr, Dorothy Shakespear and Helen Saunders.
The opening room of “The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World” deals with the years 1912-14. The Vorticist group began with the Rebel Art Centre, established by Wyndham Lewis and others. Since 1910 London had become an important arena for Marinetti the Futurism creator Therefore, any sort of advanced art was labelled ‘Cubist’ or ‘Futurist’. Wyndham Lewis named the Vorticism as a rebellion against those movements, defining its own distinctive style that combined machine-age forms with energetic geometric imagery.
In June 1914, when Europe was on the brink of war, the first issue of the journal ‘Blast’ – edited by Wyndham Lewis – contained the movement manifesto and demonstrated Vorticism was not only visual art, blending illustrations with poems, stories, dramatic texts and art criticism and showing its powerful design and literary contributions by, for example, T.S. Eliot, T.E. Hulme and Ford Madox Ford. In July 1915 Blast was issued for its second and last time, struggling to affirm in the midst of the war.
The “First Vorticists exhibition” was presented at the Doré Galleries in London, in June 1915 though works had been shown earlier in London and Brighton. However, it did not have much critical response being the newspapers busy with the war.
The second Vorticists exhibition was held at the Penguin Club in New Yorkin January 1917. It was organised by Ezra Pound and the Irish- American lawyer and collector, John Quinn.
Wyndham Lewis Workshop circa 1914-5 © Tate Britain
The following month at the Camera Club in London, “Vortographs”, a photographic exhibition of Alvin Langdon Coburn was held. He and Ezra Pound developed the ‘Vortoscope’, a kaleidoscopic instruments made up of three mirrors, used by Coburn to take the photographs, which were derided by critics though Vortographs has been described as the first presentation of abstract photographs.
“The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World” is co-organised by Tate Britain with the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham,
NC and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. It was conceived by Mark Antliff, Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University, and Vivien Greene, Curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. It is curated at Tate Britain by Chris Stephens, Curator (Modern British Art) & Head of Displays, Tate Britain, assisted by Tim Batchelor, Assistant Curator.
“The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World” is supported by Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne and the Tate Patrons.
“The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World” at the Tate Britain, London, from 14th June until 4th September 2011.