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August 17, 2011

The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World


Tate Britain: 14 June – 4 September 2011 (video at the link).

Focusing on the only two Vorticist exhibitions mounted during the lifetime (sic - ed.), in London and New York, this striking exhibition brings together over 100 key works; including photography and literary ephemera, as well as seminal pieces by Wyndham Lewis, Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.

Snide remarks about the Tate's copy editing aside - and the fact the intro to their blurb appears to have been lifted word for word uncredited from The Bullfinch Guide to Art History via the Vorticism Wikipedia entry, spare a snide remark to the effect of Vorticism being a derivative, rather less interesting spin on Futurism.

The Tate seems to share this opinion. Vorticism does not have much of a conceptual pedigree to cite; consequently, the subtitle to the exhibition is a clear reference to Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto, a template for all would be rebel artists and aesthetic empire builders ever since. Though it could be the Tate curatorial team was embarrassed to cite Wyndham Lewis (and who could blame them*).

That said, I am annoyed to once again be missing something interesting in London. A blessing of my childhood was to grow up in the same city as Jacob Epstein's Rock Drill, housed in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.** It was fascinating and terrifying, an "armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow."

Or rather, it was until I read the Rock Drill vs Battle Droid. Which tends to ruin things a bit.

Still, if you are in London, it is worth a visit to see the copy they have on display.


* "You think at once of a whirlpool. At the heart of the whirlpool is a great silent place where all the energy is concentrated. And there, at the point of concentration, is the Vorticist," he said, wanking.

** Or rather, what is left of it. Following the First World War, Epstein cut the figure in half, perhaps a reflection of an optimism for the machine age cut short in the trenches.

“Epstein may first have decided to make this immensely daring tour de force while watching men and machines cutting stone in a quarry. He later recalled: ‘My ardour for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill, second-hand, and upon this I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconced. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow.’”

Or perhaps Epstein's reinvention of the piece as an armed, sinister figure was rather less convincing when it was obviously engaged in road works (minus a tea break). Ken Cook and Ann Christopher have made a reconstruction.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at August 17, 2011 07:58 AM