Press Release

The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World

Tuesday 14 June – Sunday 4 September 2011

Tate Britain will present a major exhibition about Vorticism, one of the truly avant-garde movements in British history. The revolutionary group of artists, the Vorticists, so-called by American poet Ezra Pound and led by the painter Wyndham Lewis, reacted against the culture of Edwardian England with a radical new aesthetic that embraced the maelstrom of the modern world. This exhibition will celebrate the electrifying force and vitality of this movement by focusing on the period between 1914-18, using significant new research to examine the only two Vorticist exhibitions mounted in the lifetime of the group: one in London in 1915 and the other in New York in 1917.

Bringing together over 100 key Vorticist works including paintings, sculptures, photography, journals and literary ephemera, new light will be shed on the internationalism of the movement, particularly its links to the American avant-garde. The focus on the two historic exhibitions in London and New York will show the importance of a transatlantic exchange of ideas in the origins and legacy of the Vorticists. Including seminal works such as Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound 1914 and Wyndham Lewis’s Workshop c 1914-15, it will highlight the important role of visionary collector John Quinn, who, together with Ezra Pound, facilitated the introduction of Vorticism to an American audience through the 1917 New York show at the Penguin Club.

The exhibition will also highlight two other key 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 and Ford Madox Ford. A further section will reveal the rarely seen Vortographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn, claimed as the first abstract photographs, which were shown in the Camera Club in London in 1917.

A pivotal modernist movement, Vorticism emerged in London in 1914, when the advent of French Cubism and Italian Futurism was having a profound impact on the English art scene. Absorbing elements from these, but also defining themselves against these foreign idioms, the Vorticists forged their own distinctive style combining machine-age forms and the energetic imagery suggested by a vortex. With self-proclaimed leader Wyndham Lewis, the group included sculptors Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Jacob Epstein and painters William Roberts, David Bomberg 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. An important group of works by Saunders from the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art at The University of Chicago will be included.

Further highlights will include seminal Vorticist works such as Jacob Epstein’s iconic sculpture, Rock Drill 1913-15, the bold zig-zagging forms of David Bomberg’s The Mud Bath 1914 and Wyndham Lewis’s The Crowd 1915. There will also be the rare chance to see international loans such as Wyndham Lewis’s Architect with Green Tie 1909 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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.