8 Jan 2011

Modern British Art in 'Restless Times: Art in Britain 1914-1945'

This is an excellent exhibition of British art on show at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield until 30th January. It explores the social impact of WWI on the wider society but also how modern art was attempting to break out of the the very conventional visual culture that existed between the wars. This exhibitions shows us through the sculptures and drawings of Henry Moore, the geometric abstract paintings of David Bomberg in his painting 'In The Hold', the famous 'Bird Swallowing a Fish' sculpture by Henri Gaudier Brzeska, and many others, how powerful these works remain nearly a century later.

David Bomberg, 'In the Hold' (c) Tate, London

We must remember how British modern art is a complicated response to our wider connection with the world. On one hand Europe and the other America. We have never totally embraced 'Modernism' as warmly as our European friends did in these intervening decades, we had to somehow 'translate' modernism into our own identity. Hence we have a fusion of styles and processes, from landscapes, figuration and social commentary, through semi-abstraction, a Surreal form of Realism (see below Evelyn Dunbar's, 'A Land Girl and the Bail Bull' 1945) and a strange form of 'British' Cubism that became our form of Abstraction. All these styles never seem to coalesce as a body of work, in the way our French or German counterparts do and yet through exhibitions like this one, we come to understand that this is the beauty of modern twentieth century British art, it is eccentric and eclectic, yet it's honest and innovative.

Evelyn Dunbar, A Land Girl and the Bail Bull, 1945 © Tate, London 2010

From the devastating impact of war and a retreat from the harsh realities of life, to the celebration of the pastoral idyll and the embracing of new ideas and technologies, the exhibition examines how artists engaged with both the uncertainties and possibilities of the time. 
We are, some hundred years later, beginning to appreciate our approach to modernity through our modern art, and for that reason this type of exhibition would have travelled well around the country. The Tate and its Great British Art Debate and the Millenium Gallery as well as other regional collections that have lent work, have done well in curating such an interesting and educational exhibition.

Clive Branson, 'Bombed Women and Searchlights' 1940 © The Estate of Clive Branson / Tate, London 2010

'Restless Times' brings together over 150 significant works drawn from national and regional collections including Tate, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Museums Sheffield. other works on display are: Cyril Power, 'The Tube Station' (1932), CRW Nevinson, 'Twentieth Century', John Nash, 'The Cornfield' (1918), William Roberts, 'The Cinema' (1920), Clive Branson, 'Selling the 'Daily Worker' outside Projectile Engineering Works' (1937), Barbara Hepworth, 'Mother and Child' (1934), Henry Moore, 'Shadowy Shelter' (1940) and Ceri Richards, 'Blossoms' (1940). The exhibition will also include a number of contemporary works including a new commission by Hew Locke.

Again, it is a shame this exhibition is not touring across the country...

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