The Ingram Collection: Revisiting British Art
15 October 2022–8 January 2023.
The opening of the new exhibition of the Ingram Collection in the Upper Gallery of The Lightbox coincided with the launch of the book Revisiting Modern British Art (Lund Humphries, 2022) edited by Jo Baring and sponsored by the Ingram Art Foundation. Chris Ingram, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who began collecting in 2002, was present at the launch and signed copies of the book, adding short, witty dedications such as ‘You will probably agree with some views inside but not others!’
British art is popular, and it is well known that it comes in a variety of styles. The turn of the 20th century saw more diverse and challenging artworks being produced using all kinds of materials and being presented in different ways and from different social and political angles. Neither the book nor the exhibition is conclusive, but they are intended to ‘start conversations, engage further debate and inspire more research’, as is remarked in the book’s foreword. However, the publication Revisiting Modern British Art gives exhaustive examples of the key moments of British artwork and its production and the different movements that exist. New explorations are further ahead both in terms of the creation of artworks and in terms of art criticism; they aim to reflect on the products and to suggest additional considerations that could be made. The Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art is a registered charity that exhibits hundreds of its artworks every year. It now holds over 600 artworks and aspires to promote new artistic talents as well as to take art to a wide audience. The Ingram Collection also wishes to re-affirm well-known artists, such as Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Edward Burra, Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Paolozzi, but also to promote less-known artists such as Elizabeth Frink and give space to works by women, Black artists and gay men. The influences of avant-garde and post-impressionists’ movements on British art were certainly paramount in the 20th century; however, as artists went to London from Russia after the revolution and from Germany when the Nazis seized power, more artists travelled to Britain from the colonies and former colonies of the British Empire too, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. This gave a wide range and wide breadth to the cultural context of the capital’s art world that pushed the boundaries and broke down barriers; the process promoted diversity and expanded horizons.
The book discusses and explains some of the artworks on display that are not intended to provide an exhaustive show in the limited space of the Upper Gallery but a comprehensive one that sets examples though does not cover all the artistic movements and ideas present in the book. British identity in art is therefore considered multifaceted and open to revisitations of past works and renewals in the present as well as envisaging further developments in the future. The result is an all-encompassing kind of scenario in which exclusion is banned in a rich and elaborate milieu.
The years of the Second World War are significantly described in the works of John Minton, ‘Deserted Garrison’ (1947), and Keith Vaughan, ‘Industrial Landscape III, Morton Mill’ (1943), in which apparently conventional arrangements of buildings reveal the scars of the war in fragmented pieces of stones or objects in the foreground. The compositions look isolated in an almost metaphysical atmosphere which evokes Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings. They are monochrome bleak scenes reflecting the difficult years of the conflict. A more dramatic approach is revealed in David Bomberg’s ‘Bomb Store: Study for Memorial Panel I’ (1942), which depicts highly explosive bombs stacked in piles. The clashing shades of reds, yellows and browns convey menace and bloodshed.
Eduardo Paolozzi’s works are certainly the most impressive pieces on display. His collages on paper such as ‘Discobolus of the Castello Porziano’ (1946) and ‘Children of the Night’ (1950) refer to cut-outs of Dada and to the Surrealists’ ideas as well as to classical artworks. Allusions to social issues are present too, giving the pieces a comprehensive perspective that comments on society and on art. Other important works are Graham Sutherland’s ‘Tin Mine, Various Aspects’ (1942) and Edward Burra’s ‘Ropes and Lorries’ (1942-43) that also comment on the war by using dark tones and disturbing crowded figures. The sculptures ‘Second Girl Sitting on a Bench’ (1988) by Lynn Chadwick, Anthony Caro’s ‘Redoubt’ (1988-90), Leon Underwood’s ‘Birth of Eve’ (1929) and ‘Maternity’ (1913), and William Turnbull’s ‘Heavy Insects’ explore different ways of using bronze. ‘Heavy Insects’ is particularly interesting as it is reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti’s work in its stick-like forms but also of prehistoric constructions of boats. On the ground floor, ‘Kingpin’ (2020) by Olivia Bax, in steel, polystyrene, chicken wire, foam, plaster and paint, is a large and stimulating composition of isolated forms that connect to each other from quite a distance. They have the shape of cavities, tubes and funnels that are perhaps linked vessels in a network of relationships.
The exhibition illustrates the different phases of British artworks with interesting pieces that are examples of the variety and diversity of British modern and contemporary art. The book is a useful complement that can be used to understand and appreciate the diverse artists and offers a renewed and thought-provoking vision that is in conversation with today’s cultural and social ideas. It is a process of discovery that is ongoing, prolific and involving.
Carla Scarano © 2022.