The Dark Monarch
Magic and modernity in British art
Tate St Ives: Exhibition
10 October 200910 January 2010

This group exhibition takes its title from the infamous 1962 book by St Ives artist Sven Berlin. It explores the influence of folklore, mysticism, mythology and the occult on the development of art in Britain. Focusing on works from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day it considers, in particular, the relationship they have to the landscape and legends of the British Isles.

Featuring major loans and works from the Tate collection, it will examine the development of early Modernism, Surrealism and Neo-Romanticism in the UK, as well as the reappearance of esoteric and arcane references in a significant strand of contemporary art practice.

The exhibition includes a key work by Damien Hirst ­ the first time he has been shown at Tate St Ives ­ as well as works by important modernists and surrealists including Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Ithell Colquhoun; Neo-Romantics such as Cecil Collins, John Piper, Leslie Hurry and John Craxton; as well as emerging and established contemporary artists including Cerith Wyn Evans, Mark Titchner, Eva Rothschild, Simon Periton, Clare Woods, Steven Claydon, John Stezeker and Derek Jarman.

Exploring the tension between progressive modernity and romantic knowledge, the show focuses on the way the British landscape is encoded with various histories – geological, mythical and magical. It examines magic as a counterpoint to modernity’s transparency and rational progress, but also draws out the links modernity has with notions such as fetishism, mana, totem, and the taboo. Often viewed as counter to Modernism, the careful juxtaposition and selection of works on display suggests that these products of illusion and delusion in fact belong to modernity.

Curated by Martin Clark, Artistic Director, Tate St Ives; Michael Bracewell, writer and critic and Alun Rowlands, artist, writer and Head of Fine Art, University of Reading, the show is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, representing artists and influences across generations.

There will be range of events associated with this show suitable for adults and families featuring film screenings, talks and ‘The Dark Weekend’ over Halloween at the end of October.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue containing contributions from over fifteen writers including Brian Dillon, Philip Hoare, Jon Savage, Jennifer Higgie, Marina Warner, Michael Bracewell, Alun Rowlands and Martin Clark.