This London show explores the provincial county where modernism flourished.
To those unfamiliar with the county, Sussex Modernism might appear to be oxymoronical. With its rolling Downs and cheeky seaside resorts, you would not think this rural region could be a hotbed for progressive art. But in fact, in several places where mobile reception begins to dip, there have been artistic communities making art that metropolitans would recognise as being bang in step with the times.
Charleston, home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and host to the rest of the Bloomsbury set, was just one of these bubbles. The others include Farley Farm House, home to homegrown Surrealists: artist and writer Roland Penrose, and photographer Lee Miller. And let’s not overlook the Catholic community of craftsfolk at Ditchling, whose number included the nefarious Eric Gill.
These days, the venues mentioned are little more, and no less than, out of the way museums. Yet Sussex retains its connection to this past. De La Warr Pavilion, the UK’s first modernist building, has been refurbished as a gallery and a performance space. And at the University of Sussex, just outside of Brighton, one can read up about all of the above at the Centre of Modernist Studies.
Centre co-Director and curator of the show at Two Temple Place, Hope Wolf, has gathered together paintings, watercolours, craft artefacts and photos to explore Modernism’s legacy of intellectualism and optimism.
But as the lecturer says, “The regional setting both amplified their contrary energies and facilitated their attempts to live and represent the world differently.” If sleepy Sussex can amplify these energies, you realise the next sweeping, optimistic idea could catch on anywhere.