Friday, 12 June 2015

New Rhythms: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska – Art, Dance and Movement, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge (17 March-21 June 2015)

Kettle’s Yard is a delightful venue.  The former home of Helen and Jim Ede, their lifelong love affair with art culminated in 1957 when they bought four derelict cottages in Cambridge in which to display their art collection.  Between 1922-1936 Jim was a curator at Tate Gallery and he believed that art was better approached and appreciated in the intimate surroundings of a home.  Their open house events during their time at Kettle’s Yard attracted students and other visitors during the six years they lived there.  In 1966 the Ides gave their home to Cambridge University who continue to look after it today.

The Ides were very well connected.  When they lived in London in the mid 1920’s, they regularly entertained artists including Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Naum Gabo.  In 1926 Jim Ide bought virtually the entire ouvre of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and this exhibition, which marks 100 years since the artist died in the First World War aged 23, highlights how his interest in dance and movement was reflected in his work and also that of his contemporaries.
The Dancers (1912), Percy Wyndham Lewis
As well as drawings and sculptures by Gaudier-Brzeska, this relatively small exhibition contains drawings and paintings by a number of British Vorticists, including Percy Wyndham Lewis, David Bomberg and Helen Saunders.  Given that the Vorticist aesthetic of fragmented Cubism and hard edge imagery sought to capture the vibrancy and energy of modern life, on the surface this seems a surprisingly low energy exhibition.  The 2D works are all relatively small and the sculpture mostly hand size.  Despite this and when viewed up close and lingered upon, the energy and exuberance captured in the works begins to permeate the gallery.

Vorticist Composition in Green or Yellow (1915)
Helen Saunders
At the beginning of the twentieth century, dance was being revolutionised.  New and daring dance crazes (such as the Apache and of course, the Tango) were sweeping in from Paris and America which became very popular in London music halls and theatres.  Serge Diaghilev was challenging classical ballet and a new modern dance was being formulised by pioneers Louie Fuller and Isadora Duncan.  The artists in the exhibition were swept up in the revolution and sought to capture the energy, freedom and modernism in their work.

While Wyndham Lewis’s The Dancers (1912), Helen Saunders’s Vorticist Composition in Green or Yellow (c. 1915) capture the vitality of dancing figures and their stylised jagged lines instantly evoke the energy of dancing, Gaudier-Brzeska’s drawings and sculptures could as easily be interpreted as wrestlers (who equally fascinated the artist) as much as dancers.  This is evidence is a work such as Red Stone Dancer (1913-1914).  Clearly by its title it is a representation of a dancer and yet its entwined arms over the head could as easily be interpreted as two figures grappling.  His sketch study of the piece, with its use of Cubist/Futurist repeated forms to represent movement, is equally ambivalent.  Despite this, his exquisite handling of the materials is still totally absorbing.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska: (L): Red Stone Dancer (1913-1914) (R): Dancer Study (1914)

Even though Gaudier-Brzeska lived in London for less than four years (between 1911-1914), he very quickly established a reputation as a vanguard artist and is now considered as a pioneer of modern sculpture.  Jim Ede was fortuitous indeed to have bought such a large amount of his work. Kettle’s Yard will close for two years after this exhibition in order to protect the house’s collection during major expansion work on the gallery space.  It is fitting therefore that the final exhibition before its temporary closure is primarily of the artist who is synonymous with both the Ides and Kettle’s Yard.  A visit to the house and the exhibition is highly recommended.