wyndham lewis, the tyro and gallery marketing

1 June 2011 § Leave a comment

In anticipation of the Tate Britain‘s upcoming Vorticist exhibition I thought it would be interesting to dig up my vintage copies of BLAST (1914), The Tyro (1921/2) and The Enemy (1927-9) by way of revision. These form the most part of Lewis’s, often vitriolic,  earlier observations on art, artists and well, pretty much everything actually.

Having recently commented on the quality of art gallery ‘press’ releases a comment from the Tyro was particularly interesting. The Tyro, I should mention, represented Wyndham’s (and the Vorticists) self-styled critical and artistic persona (you may have seen his brilliant self-portrait as the Tyro) and the publications were an attempt to reignite the London debate on avant-garde artistic ideals following BLAST a few years earlier.

The confrontational Tyros are introduced in the first issue with these words: ‘These immense novices brandish their appetites in their faces, lay bare their teeth in a valedictory, inviting, or merely substantial laugh. This sunny commotion in the face, at the gate of the organism, brings to the surface all the burrowing and interior broods. Most of them are basking in the sunshine of their abominable nature’ … and so on.

In The Tyro no.2 he mocks Clive Bell and the ‘weak and foolish’  ‘Bloomsburies’ and comments on their gallery marketing. He complains that ‘imaginative finance’ is used to value their work and sold by predicting a financial gain on the art’s value over future years. He mocks their style ‘If you are a small man with a small purse then these are the pictures for you. They are not much to look at , but then neither are you…. Buy! Buy! Buy! I say to you buy! You will never regret it. You may live to bless this day. Plank down the ready and this elegant picture is yours.’

He then adds a very prescient comment. ‘I suggest before it is too late, that painters exhibit their pictures with notes, if the dealers require them, on the intellectual motives of the particular adventure they are engaged upon; but that they eschew the methods of the boot firm or cigar importer, as it is not likely to help them particularly.’

I would imagine that it was very many years before artists statments were introduced, a practice that is now ubiquitous. I have, however, no idea of when it became widespread. All suggestions welcome!?

The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World runs at Tate Britain 14 June until 4 September 2011.

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