Major new Sussex Modernist exhibition opens in London

David Jones, The Garden Enclosed, 1924, @ Tate, London 2015

Edward James/Salvador Dali, Mae West lips sofa, 1938 - Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

A new exhibition charting the influence of Sussex on the modernist movement in Britain and beyond will open its doors to the public in London this weekend.

Sussex Modernism: Retreat & Rebellion opens at Two Temple Place in London from Saturday 28 January until 23 April and is free to attend.

Curated by Dr Hope Wolf, Lecturer in British Modernist Literature at the University of Sussex, the exhibition seeks to explore the life and work of artists, writers and thinkers inspired by, or seeking refuge in, the Sussex landscape in the early and mid-twentieth century. It also examines how metropolitan and cosmopolitan modernists resisted or critiqued their rural and coastal surroundings.

Further detail on the exhibition including interviews, images and writing can be found here.

Dr Wolf worked to put together over 120 works of art (including paintings, photography, sculpture, decorated furniture, an architectural model, film, poetry, novels and music) that show how the modernist movement first took root in Sussex.

Notable work by modernist icons is included: the Henry Moore statue that once stood in Farley Farm garden; Surrealist photography by Lee Miller; the ‘Mae West Lips Sofa’ co-designed by the legendary Salvador Dali and West Dean patron of the Surrealists, Edward James; art and craft objects made by Eric Gill and David Jones at Ditchling; and paintings and decorations by famous Bloomsbury Group members Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

Speaking about the exhibition, Dr Wolf said: “Sussex is probably best known for its seaside resorts, rural retreats, woods, downs, picturesque towns and quaint villages, while modernism is usually thought of as a set of metropolitan and international movements. So why were modernists attracted to Sussex, and what were they doing there?

“Some modernists idealised Sussex, seeking an escape from the pressures of the city. Others sought refuge from scandal; some were driven there by war. Many created enclaves in which to live and work, bringing with them friends and influences from nearby London and from Europe. Some were émigrés, and the Sussex coast became a place to think about connections to the continent.

“Sussex landscapes and people influenced the artists differently, but the region afforded no rural idyll cut off from the world: their work expresses the realities of living in unsettled and uncertain times. “

Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion was supported by the Bulldog Trust at Two Temple Place in partnership with 9 Sussex museums and galleries, including the homes of major artists and collectors: Charleston near Firle (home of the Bloomsbury Group), Farley‘s House and Garden, Chiddingly (home of Roland Penrose and Lee Miller) and West Dean (home to surrealist Edward James).

Dr Wolf also worked to bring together significant holdings of modernist art – from Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings and the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. It tells the story too of important modernist venues such as the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill (designed by Serge Chermayeff and Erich Mendelsohn in the 1930s).

More information on Two Temple Place, The Bulldog Trust and getting to the exhibition

By: Patrick Reed
Last updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2018