Merlin Betts considers the De La Warr’s 2019 summer exhibitions programme 

From now until September the DLWP will be holding two Bauhaus-inspired exhibitions in their ample showspaces on the ground and first floors of the Pavilion. ‘How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s’ marks the first substantial UK exhibition of Chicago Imagists’ work in 40 years. Their diverse creative products have impressed and inspired many US artists, but have rarely been so well recognised in Britain. A selection of the Imagists’ drawings, paintings and sculpture will be displayed in the ground floor gallery, while upstairs Lauren Godfrey’s ‘Group Hat’ exhibition and creative space will host workshops and welcome community contributions. 

In order to celebrate Bauhaus’ centenary, Rosie Cooper (Head of Exhibitions at the DLWP) wanted to exemplify and push forward key Bauhaus tenets like “thinking through making” and the interrelation of form and function, rather than attempt a full-on Bauhaus exhibition. Each show does this uniquely well, displaying a breadth of technical skill and insight, and a clear focus on practical purpose. 

The Chicago Imagists (named after their affiliated style ‘Chicago Imagism’) were a group of 14 artists who shared a culture and imagination, having studied or worked in close proximity to one another at the School of the Art Institution of Chicago. They liked Surrealism and Art Brut, they liked the unconventional, the self-taught, the distinctive and different, but they were keen not to neglect the symbols of their city and home. They worked marketing slogans, pop art styles and common materials (like the screen off a pinball machine) into their art. Despite similarities in their styles, members of the group tended not to collaborate on shared canvases, but rather offered critiques and inspiring discoveries to each other to help develop individual work. They refer to other members of the group in small segments of paintings and drawings, but as a nod of respect or friendship, not an IOU. ‘How Chicago!’ will focus on their most productive period as a group: from meeting in the 60s to substantial separation in the late 70s. It is co-curated by Rosie Cooper of the DLWP and Sarah McCrory of Goldsmiths CCA. It is supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art as part of a project exploring Chicago’s art and design legacy. 

While the Imagists were in many ways inclusive and inquisitive in their style, Lauren Godfrey’s exhibition “Group Hat” perhaps goes further, taking “self-taught” and “diverse” creative work to a more literal, or maybe just a more expansive plane. Lauren has co-operated with various Bexhill community groups to develop a flexible event and study space where art is generated and re-generated by passers-by as much as by workshop participants and dedicated visiting groups. Anyone visiting the space can stop to work, can give to, or take from, the book trolley, can add their chosen “how-to” guide to the collective record, can form a poem from the benches. Lauren’s chosen benches are a good example of the overall plan: they are curved, encouraging people to build discussion circles rather than rigid and exclusive rectangles; and they’re printed with key words that will, deliberately or not, make interesting reading. Local schoolchildren, mental health support groups and young filmmakers are among those who’ve added the finer details to the exhibition – the words to build poems, paint splatters, the drawings that inspired the room’s floor and wall designs. 

‘Group Hat’ is non-hierarchical and accessible to everyone, metaphorically a mass of beautiful fabric covering us all, and it’s the many small touches that make it so. The boat on the wall is based on a drawing from a school group that sat in the Pavilion documenting their surroundings – even though you can’t see any ships clearly from the DLWP, many of us must have looked out at those shapes on the distant horizon and imagined something more than a tiny grey mass. Lauren picked out a drawing that spoke to that. Like many other elements of the exhibition, she’s looking to touch on collective experience, and through that give us as many access points as possible to creative thinking, and creative action. She’s also been indirectly inspired by the Chicago Imagists through 1980s Memphis Group furniture. As an addendum to proceedings, Lauren will be painting a mural on the Pavilion’s top floor, inspired by the shows downstairs.

‘How Chicago!’ runs until 8th September, while ‘Group Hat’ runs until 15th September. They will be open during the DLWP’s normal hours, but you’ll want to look up the Thinking Through events series on the DLWP website to check when Group Hat might be busiest, and maybe get involved in some of the events making it so. Both exhibitions are free to attend, and all parts involved will be returned to contributors, even Group Hat’s book trolley. With this in mind the DLWP asks that you give what you can to help support its ongoing endeavours and projects.

To find out more, visit: www.dlwp.com/exhibition/thinking-through


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