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Migrations: Journeys Through British Art

Group show at Tate Britain. 2012
Date: 31 January, 2012 until 12 August, 2012
Curator: Lizzie Carey-Thomas
Organiser: Tate Britain

This exhibition explores British art through the theme of migration from 1500 to the present day, reflecting the remit of Tate Britain Collection displays. From the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch landscape and still-life painters who came to Britain in search of new patrons, through moments of political and religious unrest, to Britain’s current position within the global landscape, the exhibition reveals how British art has been fundamentally shaped by successive waves of migration. Cutting a swathe through 500 years of history, and tracing not only the movement of artists but also the circulation of visual languages and ideas, this exhibition includes works by artists from Lely, Kneller, Kauffman to Sargent, Epstein, Mondrian, Bomberg, Bowling and the Black Audio Film Collective as well as recent work by contemporary artists.

www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/migrations (accessed 14 April 2012)

Migrations: Journeys into British Art was an important exhibition that took place at Tate Britain in 2012, and included the work of some seventy artists. The exhibition proposed the view that for the past 5 centuries or so, Britain itself has been shaped by successive waves of migration, from Europe, from the Caribbean, from Asia, and other parts of the world. Furthermore, that what we know as, or consider to be, British art has itself been similarly shaped. The exhibition proposed, or prompted, the question, What is British Art? It proposed that audiences consider that those genres thought of as most typically British, such as landscape painting, were in actuality introduced by artists who had themselves migrated to Britain from other countries. Foreign-born artists frequently secured lucrative commissions and many became, in effect, not just British artists, but Britain’s artists. A combination of European painters, steeped in an academic tradition, and British artists who travelled to study in Italy between them helped to introduce a neoclassical vocabulary into British painting. Much later, from the mid 1800s onwards, a transatlantic dialogue developed between British artists and American artists such as James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Throughout periods of history, Paris existed as both a magnet for artists . Simultaneously, French artists such as Henri Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros were regular visitors to England.

Fittingly, artists from the first ever diaspora – the Jewish diaspora - figured prominently in the Migrations exhibition, and a significant number of early twentieth century artists, including David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein and Mark Gertler figure in the history of British art. These influential practitioners were joined by a number of established artists included Naum Gabo, Oskar Kokoschka, Piet Mondrian and Kurt Schwitters. This latter group were among the refugees from the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe in the 1930s. Within just a few years of this (indeed, even before this wave of refugee artists)  artists were making their way to Britain from countries in the former British Empire such as Guyana, India, Pakistan and Jamaica. Such artists included Ronald Moody, Frank Bowling, Rasheed Araeen and Aubrey Williams.  The story of successive periods of migration influencing British art continued in the 1970s with the decidedly international rise of conceptual art involving an intriguing group of artists such as David Medalla, David Lamelas and Gustav Metzger. These artists were both international in their approach to their own practice as well their approach to their own identities. Towards the final, and most recent chapters of the Migrations story, the politically and socially charged climate of the 1980s gave birth to a compelling and dynamic range of visual art aligned to social commentary, in the work of Black Audio Film Collective, Keith Piper, Sonia Boyce, and Donald Rodney. The work of these artists effectively explored the duality and the nuances of being both ‘Black’ and ‘British’.

The final sections of Migrations reflected the present-day nature of London and other parts of the UK as an international destination of choice for artists from across the globe; the other side of a process that has seen British artists seek to establish themselves in other parts of the world. This dual process has created a fascinating cultural space characterised by a constant process of reinvention and change. Reflective of this, artists such as Peter Doig, Steve McQueen, Wolfgang Tillmans and Tris Vonna Michell networked globally with a speed and effectiveness enabled by plentiful travel opportunities and advances in technological communications. Migrations: Journeys into British Art secured a considerable amount of press coverage from a variety of newspapers, magazines and journals. The exhibition came with a sizeable catalogue that included artists’ interviews, and texts by curators and critics. The catalogue was extensively illustrated. Within the exhibition itself, a timeline charted the pluralising of British art, over a period of several centuries.  Although not the first project of its kind, Migrations told a compelling story of the vital part migration, and the migration of artists, has played in the shaping of what we know as British art and culture.

The exhibition was divided into a number of sections: Portraiture and New Genres; Italy, Neoclassicism and the Royal Academy; Dialogues between Britain, France and America; Jewish Artists and Jewish Art; Refugees from Nazi Europe; Artists in Pursuit of an International Language; The Dematerialised Object; New Diasporic Voices, and The Moving Image.



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»  Francesco Bartolozzi (attributed to)

Born, 1725 - 1729 (probably 1727) in Florence, Italy. Died, 1815

»  Siegfried Charoux

Born, 1896 in Vienna, Austria. Died, 1967

»  Simon du Bois

Born, 1627 - 1637 (probably 1632) in Antwerp(?). Died, 1708

»  Benedetto Gennari (II)

Born, 1633 in Centro, Italy. Died, 1715

»  Yuan-chia Li

Born, 1932 in China. Died, 1994

Exhibition venues

»  Tate Britain

London, United Kingdom