artists & participants
It is frequently assumed that the British art scene only gained momentum in the early 1990s. But three decades earlier, in the early 1960s, some London artists, working in the abstract field, were actually at the forefront of the international mainstream, often foretelling more recent trends. The fact that these artists have rarely benefited from the attention they should have commanded, is a consequence less of their creations per se than of the structures of the art market and institutions. Prejudices against “the Englishness of English art” should no longer prevent us from seeing that they showed as much creativity and vitality as the Swinging London of Pop music or clothes design.
Our aim is not to tell a comprehensive story of the British art world of the sixties, nor to conduct a sociological survey of the London art scene. We want to focus on a striking feature of this explosive decade: in the hands of such painters as Robyn Denny, Ralph Rumney, Bernard Cohen, Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley, and of such sculptors as Phillip King and William Tucker, abstract works were then created which were proposing an “amazing continuity” with the everyday world, rather than cutting themselves from this world in favor of the transcendental and mystical (a trend usually associated with abstraction). These works had to do with contemporary jazz tunes, rock ’n’ roll songs and science-fiction novels, as much as with the history of art, past and present. They broke with the idea that abstraction had to fight against images and established instead a vital relationship between the autonomy of the work of art and a mundane environment shaped by mass media and consumer culture (worlds that are too often still seen as totally antithetical).
These connections explain why abstraction did not always seem distinct from figurative Pop art. At the beginning of the decade, Richard Smith added abstract patterns or gestures to the everyday objects he painted (cigarette packs, commercial logos and packaging). In 1964-1965, Derek Boshier and Gerald Laing, second generation Pop artists, turned to abstraction by retaining only the presentation devices of their previous subjects, using it as a decorative as well as critical tool. While not yielding to the illustrative compulsion that marred Pop art, the abstract artists gathered in this exhibition positioned themselves inside the “fine arts/popular arts continuum” then described by the art critic Lawrence Alloway. Emphasizing the relationship with the viewer, they experienced new strategies of display and formal devices, which sometimes echoed those of advertisement or signage. Their abstract works created their own sense of place and/or suggestions of physical and mental voyages.
This exhibition will follow the singular leads explored by these artists, showing works that have a striking and unexpected visual force, works whose questionings have lately been replayed, unknowingly most of the times, by a new generation of European and American artists willing to revitalize abstraction.
only in german
Organisation: Mamco Genf