14 June – 4 September 2011

Tate Britain presents a major exhibition about Vorticism (1914-18), one of the truly avant-garde movements in British history. Led by painter Wyndham Lewis and named by American poet Ezra Pound, the revolutionary Vorticist artists reacted against the culture of Edwardian England with a radical new aesthetic that embraced the maelstrom of the modern world. 

This exhibition celebrates the electrifying force and vitality of Vorticism by bringing together over 100 works including paintings, sculptures, as well as the rarely seen Vorticist photography of Alvin Langdon Coburn, claimed as the first ever abstract photographs, and newly revealed works by key women Vorticists. Drawing on new research, the exhibition goes beyond a purely British interpretation of Vorticism, highlighting the movement’s connections with the American avant-garde in New York. 

A pivotal modernist group, the Vorticists emerged in London in the summer of 1914 as Europe teetered on the brink of war. Formed when French Cubism and Italian Futurism were having a profound impact on the English art scene, the Vorticists forged their own vibrant and distinctive style that combined machine-age forms with energetic geometric imagery. Amidst dramatic social and political change, and rapidly developing technology, these artists observed the world around them as if from a vortex, the still centre of a chaotic modernity. With self-proclaimed leader Wyndham Lewis, Vorticism included sculptors Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Jacob Epstein and painters William Roberts, Frederick Etchells and Edward Wadsworth. The Vorticists were also distinctive for counting several female members in their ranks, among them Jessica Dismorr, Dorothy Shakespear and Helen Saunders. The exhibition also includes the work of associated artists such as David Bomberg and C.R.W. Nevinson. 

Seminal Vorticist works such as Jacob Epstein’s iconic sculpture, Rock Drill 1913-15 (Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery), the bold zig-zagging forms of David Bomberg’s The Mud Bath 1914 (Tate), and Wyndham Lewis’s The Crowd 1915 (Tate) are brought together in The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World. It also offers the rare chance to see international loans such as Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s monumental Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound 1914 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and a group of newly discovered paintings by Helen Saunders.   

The exhibition reveals the importance of a transatlantic exchange of ideas in the origins and legacy of the Vorticists. Using significant new research to examine the only two Vorticist exhibitions mounted in the lifetime of the group: one in London (Doré Gallery) in 1915 and the other in New York in 1917, it highlights the important role of visionary collector John Quinn. Together with Ezra Pound, Quinn facilitated the introduction of Vorticism to an American audience through the 1917 New York show at the Penguin Club. 

The exhibition also highlights the literary presentations of the Vorticists’ ideas. A section will be devoted to the group’s ground-breaking journal BLAST No.1: Review of the Great English Vortex 1914 and BLAST War Number: Review of the Great English Vortex 1915, showing its powerful design and literary contributions by, for example, T.S. Eliot, T.E. Hulme and Ford Madox Ford. 

The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World is co-organised by Tate Britain with the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. It was conceived by Mark Antliff, Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University, and Vivien Greene, Curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. It is curated at Tate by Chris Stephens, Curator (Modern British Art) & Head of Displays, Tate Britain, assisted by Tim Batchelor, Assistant Curator. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.

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