Tate Britain

A slight detour from the Tate’s reputable blockbuster exhibitions like Futurism and Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism in 2009 but in the spirit of industrial, social and economic development that has become associated with such movements as Cubism, Suprematism, Constructivism and of course Futurism that defined Modern art.

The exhibition’s monumental paintings and sculptures are a testament to what was probably the British interpretation of the sweeping avant-garde movements in Europe that made it their goal and manifesto to combine the topics of urban energy with that of the electrifying new and radical aesthetics of “hard-edged geometry and flat mechanical forms”*.

To open the exhibition with Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill (1913-1915) in its original rejected form is attributing the nature of the then-to-be invented Vorticism movement which Epstein was allied to and whose now famous altered Rock Drill is also enclosed towards the end of the exhibit so as to demonstrate its closure as a group of fundamental avant-gardes. The movement’s keynote ambassador was Wyndham Lewis, who collectively visualised a British alternative to Europe’s increasingly popular Cubist and Futurist art movements with that of poetry and literature which dismantled traditional notions of ‘pleasurable aesthetics’ with those of industrial ones to achieve an exceptional elegance to a fractured and fast-approaching tearing world with the First World War in eminent sight.

The sculptures of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Epstein are wonderful for exemplifying the non-flat perspective to Lewis’ ideology of what Vorticism was: a drastic but uncompromising accomplice to a changing Modern world.

Admittedly, the Vorticists were not practicing something new to the art stage but were culturally appropriating the popular groups of artists in the ever increasingly Fascist and Socialist countries of Italy and Russia. The experiments conducted by the Vorticists were reminiscent to those of the Italian Cubists, working on abstracting the reality they were living in with that which they envisioned. The selection of abstracted Vorticist photographs along with the several literate examples of the movement’s revelation of a changing art group present nothing terrifically new though the collection of artists, poets, dramatists, philosophers and theorists did present Epstein and Lewis’ now renowned names to the world of art.

To the contemporary viewer however, Vorticism like Italian Futurism and Cubism, and Russian Constructivism and Suprematism, have become most familiar to graphic students who have scattered these movements’ aggressive figures across canvases and epic sized displays as giant pinball machine designs.

* Alastair Sooke in The Daily Telegraph, 13 June 2011