Page 18 - Studio International - February 1969
P. 18

Bryan                                     Sometime early in January 1946, I remember   and general public their first real experience
                                                 sitting in 'Quick's' Coffee-house at the bottom   of contemporary American painting. It would
       Robertson's                               of Queensway talking with a young man who   be hard to over-estimate the value of the one-
                                                                                            man exhibitions of Pollock, Rothko, Tobey,
                                                 was attempting to gather together the des-
                                                 perate bits for the first post-war article on   Guston, Kline, Johns, Motherwell, and the
       achievement at                            younger British artists for  The Studio.  That   astonishing revelation of the fact that, by the
                                                 young man was Bryan Robertson and his      time of the Rauschenberg show, thousands
       the Whitechapel                           article appeared in the March issue of that   were prepared to travel not merely from the
                                                 year. It started with the phrase 'It is time that
                                                                                            home-counties but from the Midlands and
                                                 some statement was made on behalf of the   the North to this gallery in East London. But
                                                 younger British artists', and went on 	. .   Bryan Robertson never lost sight of his other
                                                 emphasis on "a nationally conscious" school   aim, 'that some statement was made on be-
                                                 of painting is sometimes worrying . . . oc-  half of the younger British artists', and he
                                                 casionally it suggests that British painters are   pursued this in two significant ways. First, he
                                                 erecting artificial bariers against outside influ-  organised a number of one-man retrospective
                                                 ences— a dangerous practice. The famous   shows of British artists in the middle of their
                                                 School of Paris was great only because it was   careers— 'For it is at this time in their lives
                                                 truly international in feeling and outlook.'   that artists may find themselves temporarily
                                                 No history of art in England, over the 23-year   becalmed in the doldrums of uncertainty or
                                                 period that followed that article, can be   engaged in the laborious process of re-orienta-
                                                 written without a substantial amount of atten-  tion which so many have to face—or they find
                                                 tion being paid to Bryan Robertson and his   themselves, for the moment, outside the
                                                 inspired directorship of the Whitechapel Art   approval of fashion and the mode'. The list
                                                 Gallery. He led the way in providing the   shows how unconcerned with fashion he was,
                                                 means for British painting to become truly   for besides Davie, Armitage, Caro, Tim
                                                 internationally conscious because, however   Scott and Phillip King, it includes Minton,
                                                 much communication through photographs of   Ayrton, Colquhoun, Prunella Clough and
                                                 works of art and magazine images is extended,   Gertrude Hermes. Second, he presented selec-
                                                 the real understanding is dependent on direct   ted younger artists in his 'New Generation'
                                                 physical relationship (there were many who   annual exhibitions from 1964 onwards. This
                                                 totally revised their previous paper-thin esti-  was encouragement of a kind that could never
                                                 mates of Jackson Pollock after confrontation   be matched by 'Committee-patronage'. The
                                                 with the actual works in the memorable     artist was aware of a perceptive individual's
                                                 Whitechapel show of 1958).                 belief and backing; Robertson never operated
                                                 Within two years of taking over at White-  from anything other than a strong personal
                                                 chapel, Robertson had launched his pro-    commitment to the artists and the works that
                                                 gramme of comprehensive exhibitions of major   he showed, and this was in itself invigorating
                                                 international figures with the Mondrian   in a situation that usually professes a deadpan
                                                 exhibition, and had also introduced what   objectivity. He thus gave many British artists
                                                 soon became easily identifiable as 'White-  the opportunity to test their strength in a space
                                                 chapel-style' 9  x 8  in. catalogues (which had   and context that would allow an international
                                                 a tonic effect on the prevailing standards of   measuring-rod.
                                                 catalogue production in many of the smaller   His immense achievement at Whitechapel
                                                 public galleries). He expressed his beliefs   deserves to be saluted, and there is more than
                                                 in an early preface : 'The English are not more   one generation of English artists who will
                                                 backward than their European neighbours. It   wish to thank him for his help and encourage-
                                                 is simply that the encounter between the pub-  ment, both direct and indirect. It will be a
                                                 lic at large and the art of their own times is   dismal confession of our society's inability to
                                                 still quite a new experience, and understand-  profit from proven talent if an opportunity
                                                 ing cannot be hurried.'                   does not present itself for his gifts to be en-
                                                 Using the versatile space at Whitechapel he   gaged in some way in the promotion of the
                                                 worked tirelessly to give effect to this new en-  visual and plastic arts—faith of the kind he has
                                                 counter and was instrumental in giving a   exemplified is too rare.
                                                 younger generation of English artists, students

       Contributors                              YVES GAUCHER  the Canadian artist, has specially   appointed Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery in
                                                 designed the cover of this issue of Studio International.   succession to Bryan Robertson.
       to this issue
                                                 MAURICE DE SAUSMAREZ  is head of the Byam Shaw   GARTH EVANS  the sculptor, teaches at St Martin's
                                                 School of Drawing and Painting.            School of Art. He has exhibited at the Rowan Gallery.
                                                 MARK GLAZEBROOK  read history at Cambridge and   SIMON WATSON TAYLOR  who organized the Apollinaire
                                                 studied at Oskar Kokoschka's summer school in   anniversary exhibition at the I.C.A. last November,
                                                 Saltzburg and at the Slade School. He worked for the   writes about the modern French literary scene and
                                                 Arts Council for four years from 1961, has lectured at   translates art history. His translation of Andre Breton's
                                                 Maidstone College of Art, and was art critic for the   key work on Surrealism, from which come the two
                                                 London Magazine  for over a year. In January he was    essays by Breton in this issue, is to be published by
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