Review | Group Hat and How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s at De La Warr Pavilion

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The waves come and go, breaking on the shore at their own singular pace. Grains of sand become whole under their release, imagination finding its foundations and delivering dreams.

A perpetuation of that same motion, ebbing and flowing, Bexhill-on-Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion seems to debouch into the city. The building, designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff and first inaugurated in 1935, suggests a dynamic that has people coming from the sea to the land, the latter taking on the role of escape generally attributed to the all-connecting body of water. 

Installation view, Lauren Godfrey: Group Hat, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris, Courtesy of De La Warr Pavilion

This energy reverberates within, nothing having been left to chance in its beautifully detailed interiors. A pioneering centre for art, culture and recreation, De La Warr Pavilion finds its roots in community and accessibility, both concepts being fully embraced and reflected by an abundant and relevant program of events and activities.

This summer, staying on theme, it is hosting two exhibitions: Lauren Godfrey’s Group Hat on the first floor, and How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s, organised by Hayward Gallery Touring and co-curated by Rosie Cooper (De La Warr Pavilion’s Head of Exhibitions) and Sarah McCrory (Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art’s Director), on the ground floor gallery.

Installation view, Lauren Godfrey: Group Hat, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris, Courtesy of De La Warr Pavilion

Godfrey’s Group Hat is a playground, a sandbox where everyone is invited to (re)connect with their self that is eager to experiment, to try something, new or old, to start over and over, from scratch, without fearing failure. The artist has conceived a space that opens itself to creation, a space where everything feels possible and you can build and rebuild from what, and whomever, surrounds you.

Many of the pieces on show were devised through conversation and collaboration. Godfrey reached out to local organisations and learned their language, embedded her artwork with their voices and spirit. These moveable objects and furniture are not to simply look at, but also interact with, live in, create on. You can write minimalistic poetry with colourful blocks that are also a dominoes set so you can sit on, there is a book swap trolley and a manual of shared knowledge to which you can add your own entry.

Installation view, Lauren Godfrey: Group Hat, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris, Courtesy of De La Warr Pavilion

Featuring works by Roger Brown, Sarah Canright, Jim Falconer, Ed Flood, Art Green, Phil Hanson, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, Christina Ramberg, Suellen Rocca, Barbara Rossi, Karl Wirsum and Ray Yoshida, How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s is also a celebration of a shared identity and community.

Brimming with life, this is the first significant exhibition in the UK of work by the Chicago Imagists in almost four decades. Travelling from Goldsmiths CCA, it focuses on the period of time from when the group first met to when they started – both in style and location – to break apart.

Installation view, How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris, Courtesy of De La Warr Pavilion

Influenced by Surrealism and Art Brut, working across many different mediums, these understated artists found genuine joy, enthusiasm and inspiration in the vernacular, from architecture to language to advertising and so on. They did not simply represent the spirit of Chicago, they were Chicago at its purest, multifaceted self. Bright, vibrant, loud, irreverent and provocative, repetitive, puns and wordplay in the mix, the texture of these works goes beyond the palpable. Luminous and colourful, the exhibition design elegantly complements the boldness of the pieces it holds, following an order that is stylistic instead of chronological.

Installation view, How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris, Courtesy of De La Warr Pavilion

With Godfrey’s Group Hat and How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s, both exploring a broader notion of shared identity and levelling the fine and applied arts, De La Warr Pavilion raises a toast to the German art school Bauhaus, as 2019 marks the hundredth anniversary of its foundation.


Lauren Godfrey’s Group Hat is on view until September 15 and How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s until September 8 2019. For more information, visit De La Warr Pavilion.
Words by Maria Mendes.


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