The New Situation – Art in London in the Sixties, at Sotheby’s until 11 September 2013 : British Modern Art II 1948: Pop Art at Christie’s, 9 October – 24 November 2013
Two exhibitions at Christies and Sotheby’s provide an opportunity to see a great selection of mid-twentieth century British Art. The Christies exhibition, opening in October focuses on Pop artists including Peter Blake, Pauline Boty, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney and is produced with Waddington Custot to launch the new Christie’s gallery space in Mayfair. At Sotheby’s work by Hockney, Allen Jones, Bridgey Riley and Anthony Caro is shown alongside Derek Boshier, Joe Tilson, Richard Smith, Phillip King and Liliane Lijn among others. The exhibition is curated by John Kasmin, a prominent dealer and gallerist in the 60s, it celebrates the art of ‘Swinging London’.
The Sotheby’s show open only until Wednesday offers five rooms of sculpture and painting as well as some drawings, prints and two Richard Smith maquettes. Claiming to broaden the acclaim of the exhibited artists, The New Situation attempts to frame a new canon of British 60s art. Taking place within the thick-carpeted rooms of Sotheby’s Bond Street headquarters and lit with aura-inducing back lights, the works are carefully placed with more well-known works speaking to the lesser known, providing some context but more cache. In the accompanying catalogue we are told that the show (in both content and name) pivots on three key exhibitions, Situation (1960), The New London Situation (1962) and London- the New Scene (1965-66), the latter of which toured North America. Like the galleries at Bond Street, these three exhibitions also sought to show British art in sleek settings comparable to the ‘cool clean’ museum spaces in America. Underlying this appropriation are the complex political, economic and social relationships between Britain and American that structured artistic exchange the 1960s. The witty pop bricolage, luscious colours and sleek materials in The New Situation trace a British canon curtailed commercially but the exhibition fails to account for the dynamics, interactions or overlaps that many of these artists used to disrupt national association or canonicity .
The Christie’s show likewise proposes a return to the overlooked and under-celebrated of British art. Taking place in their new private sales space, the exhibition will usher in a new chapter in the history of the auction house. An expansion that echoes the shifting impact of commercial spaces of the 1960s.