MNAC © Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. MNAC. Foto: Calveras / Mèrida/ Sagristà
Otho Lloyd: Anys trenta / Años trenta.
In 1945, the Labour party famously asked the United Kingdom to face the future.
They did and a sea change began. Labour’s unlikely victory over Winston Churchill’s Conservative party represented a major shift in public confidence. Voters, still quaking from World War Two, chose social reform over the business-as-usual approach of Churchill. Labour promised employment, housing, national healthcare and a welfare state and in the ensuing decades, their policies revived the economy and led to a more open society. Mods, swingers, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones all owe tribute to their parents’ risky future facing.
No less significantly, post-war visual artists in Britain also made their mark, as seen in Fundació Joan Miró’s Let Us Face the Future which opens later this month. An exhibition of British art from 1945 to 1968, the curators worked with the British Council to assemble a mix of styles that represents the evolution of expression which began with the 1945 Labour win.
At its core, Let Us Face the Future, reflects a national creative subconscious, ostensibly reacting to a time of great change in the UK. Though crossovers in style or content may unify some of the work, the contrasts and contradictions between the artists ought to provoke. Here, there is not one but several ways of seeing and feeling on display. Some of the work is clearly a reaction to the war—Francis Bacon’s grotesque and emotionally raw paintings evoke a glum post-war sentiment. Many are the abstract or Constructivist artists (Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton, Victor Pasmore) who valued totality over details and focused on modeling basic elements of form, a bit of a holdover from the pre-war. Others, like figurative painter Lucien Freud or photographer Tony Ray-Jones, worked on literal interpretations of reality: while Pop artists, like Eduardo Paolazzi and Richard Hamilton appropriated bits and pieces from popular culture.
Although there’s little that unifies the artists here, this exhibition provokes the viewer into reflection. It’s a reversal if you will of that Labour plea, asking us to look to the past to see the future.