The Vorticists: Rebel Artists in London and New York, 1914-1918, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy

Wyndham Lewis, Composition, 1913
Collection of the Tate, London

January 29 – May 15, 2011

From January 29 through May 15, 2011, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection presents The Vorticists: Rebel Artists in London and New York, 1914-1918, curated by Mark Antliff, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA, and Vivien Greene, Curator of 19th- and Early 20th-Century Art at the Guggenheim Museum New York. This is the first exhibition devoted to Vorticism to be presented in Italy and the first to attempt to recreate the three Vorticist exhibitions mounted during World War I that served to define the group’s radical aesthetic for an Anglo-American public. Vorticism was Britain’s most original and radical contribution to the visual avant-gardes that flourished in Europe in the years before and during World War I. An abstracted figurative style, combining machine-age forms and the energetic imagery suggested by a vortex, this movement emerged in London at a moment when the staid English art scene had been jolted by the advent of French Cubism and Italian Futurism. Absorbing elements from both, but also defining themselves against these foreign idioms, Vorticism was a short-lived, but pivotal modernist movement that essentially spanned the years from 1913 to 1918. The exhibition features approximately 100 works, comprising paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photography, printed matter. It is co-organized by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, and Tate Britain, London.

Vorticism takes its name from “Vortex”, a term coined by the American expatriate poet Ezra Pound at end of 1913 when describing the “maximum energy” he and his colleagues wished to instill in London’s literary and artistic avant-garde. In 1914 the self-proclaimed leader of this new movement, Wyndham Lewis, founded the radical journal Blast, and within the pages of the first issue baptized the circle of painters, sculptors, and writers working in this new style as ”Vorticists.”

The exhibition opens with an introductory section of large-scale iconic works associated with Vorticism: Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill (1913-15; a recreation of the original assemblage, plus the 1916 “torso” in bronze), David Bomberg’s The Mud Bath (1914), Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound (1914; 1973 authorized copy), and Wyndham Lewis’s The Crowd (1914-15). Painters and sculptors, they were surprisingly international and multi-denominational in their make-up: Epstein was American and Jewish, Bomberg was English and also of Jewish heritage, Gaudier-Brzeska was an expatriate from France, and Wyndham Lewis was Canadian by birth. By so introducing figures pivotal to Vorticism, the exceptional diversity of this movement is immediately underscored. And, via his effigy, the Vorticists’ major thinker, Pound, also figures prominently.

The core of the exhibition will then trace the evolution of Vorticism through the movement’s central exhibitions: the 1915 Doré Gallery show in London, the January 1917 Penguin Club exhibition in New York, and the February 1917 Camera Club exhibition of Vortographs in London. In each case, new research has been undertaken to identify and locate the works originally shown in these historic presentations. Additional components of the exhibition revolve around the two issues of Blast and feature literary ephemera and associated artwork by the group. These will highlight the production of Lewis and the prints of Wadsworth.

Although Vorticism initially emerged in England, its practitioners had important links to the American avant-garde, impacting such figures as the collector John Quinn, who, together with Ezra Pound, facilitated the introduction of Vorticism to an American audience. Conceived as a survey to introduce a non-British audience to this seminal movement, the emphasis on Anglo-American connections, combined with the recreation of Vorticism’s three exhibitions, is unprecedented.

The catalogue consists of a series of essays by British and American scholars who consider such themes as the critical reception of the Vorticists’ exhibitions, the impact of World War I on the cultural politics of the movement, the reception of Vorticism in the United States, and the leading role of Ezra Pound in shaping the movement.