7 July 2011

Tate in London: The Vorticists and Miró

During a ‘Lunch with the FT’ to mark the publication of his new novel, The Stranger’s Child, Alan Hollinghurst remarked ‘I’m preoccupied, as everyone is, with the first world war …’. Well perhaps not everyone, but WW1 was certainly the biggest thing that happened to the Vorticists. Until 4 September, Tate Britain is providing a survey, The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World, of this brief movement. Vorticism’s origins in early 1914 were a peculiarly British reaction to Cubism, Futurism and Post-Impressionism which had been imported and revealed to the London art scene shortly before. Its short existence was marked by the publication of the two Blast magazines and a couple of exhibitions. By 1917 there was rather more to complain about than the English weather.

Work of some of the leading lights in the Vorticist movement has been shown in London fairly recently. The National Portrait Gallery’s Wyndham Lewis Portraits in 2008 also displayed copies of Blast, and Wild Thing at the Royal Academy in 2009/10 featured Epstein’s Rock Drill and sculpture by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Gaudier-Brzeska died in action in 1915, so we can only speculate as to whether he would have overshadowed contemporaries like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, had he lived.

A short river trip away Tate Modern has a major exhibition, The Ladder of Escape, of work by Joan Miró, an artist whose career was not so marked by WW1 (he was 21 in 1914), but which was deeply affected by Spain’s turbulent 20th century history. The exhibition shows how Miró’s style evolved, the influences of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, his growing international recognition, and his monumental late works. Miró’s work is admired more by some than others, but even his supporters must accept that he was overshadowed by another long-lived Catalan artist, Picasso, 12 years his senior. Unlike Picasso, Miró lived to see the end of the Franco regime in Spain in 1975.

Tickets for The Vorticists are £14 and for Miró, £15.50 (there are concessions). The latter is better value for money, and ends on 4 September.

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