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Apr 2009 Journal

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Art notes (review)

Does the creative spirit flourish in trauma and alienation? The Ben Uri Art Gallery has collaborated with the Courtauld Institute’s new MA teaching module, Arts in Exile in Britain 1933-45, to create an exciting exhibition: Forced Journeys: Artists In Exile in Britain c 1933-1945 (until 19 April). Largely drawn from the Gallery’s extensive collection, it features the great Modernist and Expressionist refugee artists whose subtle and dangerous odyssey was to project the darkness of their times.
The 90-work show explores the effects of exile and internment on artists trapped in the Second World War and their contribution to British art scholarship. Internees on the Isle of Man continued to create work and hold concerts and exhibitions; lithographers tore up lino from the floor; sculptors like Pamina Liebert-Mahrenholz sculpted with bread during her month at Holloway Prison; and the Dadaist artist, Kurt Schwitters, used lino, junk and porridge.
Ben Uri chair David Glasser stresses that the exhibition’s focus is the exiled rather than the Jewish artist. In his introduction to the catalogue, he explains that complex issues of identity arising from the status of émigrés are relevant today - such as images of Chinese, West Indian and Cypriot émigrés, portrayed by Eva Frankfurther when she worked at Lyons Corner House.
Forced to leave Austria with her mother, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky depicts a nude woman adrift with others on a choppy sea in a boat. The vision is bleak and terrifying. Her life-long friend, Max Beckmann, who fled Germany after the opening of the notorious Entartete Kunst exhibition in Berlin, echoes this nightmarish theme of being rowed away, in a tryptich of brutality. Schwitters’s Ship in the Sea offers a cubist example of fear and loneliness. Even Ernst Eisenmayer’s sketches of Southwark and Kensington pre-fabs and his Cityscape have a dark and alien gloom, while Hans Feibusch’s Bomb Damage near St Paul’s carries his own war into the dreariness of shattered buildings overlooked by a less than reassuring cathedral. Hermann Fechenbach’s yellow sky with soaring eagles hints at the predatory omniscience of the Third Reich.

The exhibition has prompted the question: is there a Jewish art? The answer lies perhaps in the spiritual otherness of the Jewish artist, rather than the fragmented identity of the émigré.
A glance at the Nash Terraces in Regents Park evokes the graceful symmetry of Palladian architecture, whose eighteenth-century revival in Britain was largely inspired by Inigo Jones. The first exhibition devoted to the architect, Andrea Palladio, continues at the Royal Academy in celebration of his quincentenary. Palladio worked in sixtheenth-century Vicenza, Venice and the Veneto, remoulding the elegance of classical architecture to the needs of his era. From the great Venetian churches to the Rialto Bridge and the Villa Rotunda, he inspired generations of architects, for whom his Four Books of Architecture were the alpha beta of the profession. The exhibition blends history with technology: large-scale models and fly-through computer animations accompany his original pen and ink drawings, alongside works by Titian, Veronese and El Greco and his 42 sketches of Julius Caesar’s battles!
 

Gloria Tessler

previous article:Rereading The Reader
next article:An important and welcome beginning (book review)