New Movements in Art 1942

Found - a folding 6 page art catalogue/ booklet for an exhibition in wartime Leicester June 1942. Artists included John Tunnard (who provides the image on the cover) John Piper, Ivor Hitchens, Graham Sutherland, Frances Hodgkins, Edward Wadsworth, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, Hans Erni, Paul Nash, Kurt Schwitters, Eileen Agar, Ithell Colquhoun, Ceri Richards, Michael Ayrton,  John Buckland Wright ,Cecil Collins, Leslie Hurry. Top price was £150 for Two Serpents by Paul Nash. The 3 Schwitters were all less than £30..The curator and writer of the introduction (below) was Trevor Thomas - the subject of another Jot entry, as 21 years later he was the last person to see Sylvia Plath alive. He wrote a slim book on this called Sylvia Plath: Last Encounters (Privately Published, Bedford 1989.)

New Movements in art exhibition: 23 May to 21 June 1942: Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Trevor Thomas, Curator.

By way of introduction.

The contention that "every picture tells a story" is now recognised as a popular fallacy, just as, Hollywood excepted, nobody now believes that "every story makes a picture." In this way free from the necessity for literary associations, we can approach such an exhibition as this with unfettered intelligence and liberated imagination.

Those two words, intelligence and imagination, rather sum up the two main characteristics of the works exhibited, whilst, at the same time indicating the trends of movements in contemporary art, and suggesting why Britain and America have become the art refuges of the world, since elsewhere the free exercise of intellect and imagination are verboten. 

Out of the variety of competing activities, theories, tendencies and movements which characterised life and art in the first quarter of this century, two major movements have emerged to take pride of place. They may appear to be startlingly new and revolutionary, though fundamentally they are merely the logical developments of tradition. For convenience they have been characterised as Surrealist and Abstract of Constructivist. These are two useful signposts which, like all generalisations, are open to interpretation and misconception. To a certain extent they may be compared with our old, more familiar milestones of Romantic and Classical, or, if you wish to Fantastic and Architectural, Imaginative and Intellectual. That is not to say that the intellectual abstract artists do not use a great deal of sensitive imagination, or that the emotionally conditioned surrealist are devoid of highly developed intelligence. They are all of them artists in the ultimate analysis exploring with adventure, courage and technical skill, unfamiliar realms of imaginative expression.

In our approach to these contemporary works the same venturesome courage is called for to take trouble in co-operating with the artists, not for entertainment, bit in order to participate in new and enjoyable experience. Admittedly, it is easier and more lazy to follow along the lines of our old familiar experience, but that limits the range of our potential development. It is infinitely more rewarding to welcome the occasion of new and unfamiliar experience.

The artists of our times have been extremely sensitive in foreseeing changes in our lives and attitudes in the past, and in that sense are now pre-viewing that nest phase. For example, it was startlingly fantastic some years ago to see a surrealist painting with a grand piano hanging out-of-doors; now we scarcely turn our heads to look at the whole contents of a bedroom spilled out of the maw of a wrecked building. The marvellous precision of an abstract construction is equalled in our day by the subtle fuselage of aircraft, whilst no sculpture can be more aesthetically what was once unfamiliar and strange becomes accepted as part of our experience and way of life. 

Perhaps from this point of view we can regard contemporary art as symptomatic of the emotional and super-real freedom of imagination at the present time, and, in its planned and brilliantly coloured constructions, indicative in anticipation of that re-constructed world, beautiful and ordered, which we hope someday to realise.

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