Opening up and reaching out, my hopes for the future of modernist studies: the case of David Bomberg, the Ben Uri Gallery, and the Sarah Rose Collections

5 August 2022
Nicola Baird

What follows is an excerpt, or rather the opening set of paragraphs, from a paper given at the BAMS 2022 Hopeful Modernisms conference entitled ‘Opening up and reaching out, my hopes for the future of modernist studies: the case of David Bomberg, the Ben Uri Gallery, and the Sarah Rose Collections’.

David Bomberg (1890-1957) was a painter and draughtsman born to Polish-Jewish parents in Birmingham and raised in Whitechapel, in London’s East End. Initially apprenticed as a chromolithographer, Bomberg attended classes at City and Guilds, Westminster Technical School, and the Slade School of Fine Art, from which he was expelled in 1913. Studies of his life and work, generally chronological, biographical, and formalist, consider his work characterised by three distinct phases—Vorticist-inspired geometrical abstraction, topographical landscape painting, looser, expressionistic landscapes and searching self-portraits. Such accounts also consider his legacy as a teacher at the Borough Polytechnic (now London South Bank University) whose idiosyncratic pedagogical approach proved influential, resulting in 1946 in the formation of the Borough Group and subsequently, in 1953, the Borough Bottega. Bomberg’s early, experimental work is undoubtedly canonised and placed neatly within the context of pre-war native avant-gardism, while his mid-career and late work is seen as an apparent disavowal of the modern. It is arguably apparent, however, that such logic has been exhausted, and that it is in fact a project of the modern to judge Bomberg’s work in such terms, as having run counter to the modernist trajectory, for the moderns ‘consider everything that does not march in step with progress archaic, irrational or conservative’.[i] Established art historical approaches to Bomberg then have not only proved fragmentary, but also endlessly repetitive, resulting in unreflexive practice, the reproduction of which acts as a barrier to change, growth and understanding. Continue reading “Opening up and reaching out, my hopes for the future of modernist studies: the case of David Bomberg, the Ben Uri Gallery, and the Sarah Rose Collections”

Wassily Kandinsky’s Woodcuts: Early Representations of Non-Objective Imagery

28 February 2022

Anne Regina Grasselli, University of Edinburgh

Figure 1
Figure 1. Wassily Kandinsky, Schwarze Linien, 1913, oil on canvas, 130.5 x 131.1 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

For artist-theorist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), experimentation with line, form, and colour were critical in establishing a new, fully non-objective artistic style. The paintings he produced during the first decades of his career, for example, from 1896 until 1921, are generally characterised by their unrestrained expressions of bold, saturated colours (fig. 1), whereas those from his years at the Bauhaus, from 1922 through 1933, are typically geometric abstractions in which he focussed on combinations of lines, shapes, and colours (fig. 2). However, Kandinsky’s sensitivity to geometric form during his early artistic years is oftentimes overlooked, even though many of the works he produced during this time contain important hints of non-objective imagery that can be regarded as precursors to his later abstractions. A brief examination of three woodcuts from 1903, 1907, and 1912 shows how Kandinsky’s use of unmodulated shapes and spatial ambiguity indicates an early propensity towards non-objective renderings. Furthermore, these case studies demonstrate his heightened awareness of contemporary studies on the psychology of visual perception and a strong penchant for optical balance and repetition, which predated those facets of his later, more geometric works. Continue reading “Wassily Kandinsky’s Woodcuts: Early Representations of Non-Objective Imagery”

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