With Spring creeping up on us and strikes on Southern Railway finally seeming to fizzle out, there is really no excuse now not to make an excursion to London to visit Sussex Modernism. You don’t even need to rush, for this exhibition is still on until 23rd April 2017. The 120 artworks featured in Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion are on display at Two Temple Place – an ornate Neo-Gothic mansion built in 1890s for William Waldorf Astor.
When I visited a couple of weeks ago, I found it rather like two shows in one! The exhibition itself – showcasing ground-breaking artistic innovation from the early 20th century – plus an opportunity to view this extraordinarily opulent house – no expense spared for the the richest man in the world! But what a clash of styles – Victorian taste and Modernism are poles apart. But somehow that added to the exhibition’s charm and demonstrated forcibly how artists and writers, just a few years into the 20th century, turned the cultural world upside down.
Sussex Modernism is the sixth winter exhibition organised by The Bulldog Trust – a charitable organisation whose aim is to support regional museums. Naturally much of the focus of the exhibition was on East Sussex – where art and craft communities flourished particularly between the wars. But Pallant House Gallery in Chichester was well represented too, with many works by such artists as John Piper, Edward Burra, David Jones and Eric Gill. West Dean, just a few miles north of Chichester featured well too – Edward James in collaboration with Salvador Dali fashioned one of the most fantastical Surrealist interiors at Monkton House on the West Dean estate.
As a whole the exhibition demonstrates how Sussex played host to a remarkable range of British artists and writer. Despite the county oozing tranquility and sleepiness, the rolling hills and quaint resorts provoked rebellious ways of living and ground-breaking artistic innovation. All in all, it is well worth the trip to London to sample what is arguably already on our doorstep. It certainly has whet my appetite to explore our ‘local’ galleries and museums more regularly.