Into the Vortex

Early twentieth-century British art comes to the Nasher
May 20, 2014

While French artists were creating Cubist works and Italian artists were combining politics and color into Futurist paintings, a small but powerful movement known as Vorticism was taking hold in British art circles. Traditionally treated as an insular movement in standard art history, Vorticism is anything but, according to a new Nasher exhibition.

Dance by Helen Saunders, circa 1915.

Abstract imageryDance by Helen Saunders, circa 1915. Courtesy of The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago

“The Vorticists: Rebel Artists in London and New York, 1914-18” is the first exhibition devoted solely to this movement to be presented in the U.S. It is also the first to attempt to recreate three Vorticist exhibitions mounted during World War I that served to define the group’s radical aesthetic for the public.

An abstracted figurative style combining machine-age forms and the energetic imagery suggested by a vortex, Vorticism emerged in London at a time when the staid English art scene had been jolted by the advent of Cubism and Futurism. Vorticism absorbed elements from both but also sought to define itself against the foreign idioms.

The Vorticist painters created compositions activated by zigzagging, diagonal forms and—in contrast to the Cubists and Futurists— more fully embraced geometric, abstract imagery, without abandoning three-dimensional space.

Ninety works—paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photographs, and related ephemera—will be on view from September 30 through January 2, 2011.

This exhibition is co-curated by Mark Antliff, professor in Duke’s Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, and Vivien Greene, curator of nineteenth- and early-twentieth century art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.