Sotheby’s will stage ‘The New Situation’: Art in London in the Sixties, a collaboration between Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art specialists and the legendary gallerist Kasmin – the man who gave David Hockney, among others, his first break fifty years ago. Presenting a group of works that recapture the energy and innovative spirit of the London art scene in the Sixties – a decade when our artists, along with our photographers, film stars, musicians and fashion designers captured the world’s imagination, turning the capital into ‘Swinging London’ in the process – The New Situation will also include a number of works that will be on public view for the first time. A selection of works will be offered for sale, and a number loaned from distinguished collections.
David Hockney, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro, whilst internationally recognised today, were just some of many bright young talents who shared equal billing in museum and gallery shows both at home and abroad. The New Situation will re-unite them with their contemporaries, many of whom are now unfairly overlooked, enabling today’s audience to rediscover this first generation of ‘Young British Artists’ who themselves were truly a ‘Sensation’, thirty years before Norman Rosenthal and Charles Saatchi applied the name to another generation of young, exciting artists.
Kasmin comments: “In the 60s, optimism arose in the art world and we newer people thought we could change the prevailing British culture and make the Visual rival the Literary attitude. We admired daring and enthusiasm. We were enemies of ‘good taste’. For us, paintings were no longer adjuncts to polite living, and sculpture went wild. No more ‘over the mantelpiece’ or on a plinth, the artworks challenged and exulted. We were on a several year-long ‘high’.”
It was fifty years ago that Kasmin’s gallery – the first ‘white cube’ style gallery in London – opened at 118 New Bond Street, just across the road from Sotheby’s, in which he showed young artists from the capital alongside major figures from America and the Continent. Approached down a narrow corridor, which opened out into a bright, white room, lit from above by a large skylight, it was the first architect-designed ‘white cube’ space in London. His gallery had a profound effect on how young contemporary artists were seen, both by serious international collectors and by the hip crowd that attended the packed openings. It also gave the artists themselves the confidence to look out, across new horizons. In many ways Kasmin – along with gallerist Robert Fraser (perhaps now best known for getting arrested along with the Stones and Marianne Faithfull) – was the Sixties art scene in London. Sotheby’s is honoured that he has curated The New Situation.
Simon Hucker, Sotheby’s Specialist in Modern & Post-War British Art, said: “In Britain in the 60s, we see all the major movements of the post-war period – from Pop, which in many ways we can lay a serious claim to have invented, to Op, gestural abstraction to Hard-Edge and Minimalism. It was also a time when art and what an art- object could be, was redefined, with the London art scene, deeply intertwined with music, poetry and film, leading the way in installation, performance and conceptual art.”
David Hockney’s Portrait Kas and Jane (1965, on loan, private collection) shows Kasmin with his first wife in their flat, with a large Bernard Cohen painting to the left. Both Hockney and Cohen were part of Kasmin’s stable of very young artist: he gave them both a solo show in 1963 and in many ways Cohen’s work – large, abstract, linear – was much more the ‘Kasmin’ look: Hockney was the exception, since Kasmin just loved the work.
As well as being one of the star-artists of the 60s, Anthony Caro was also a hugely influential teacher and his sculpture course at St Martins was attended by a number of artists in the show – including David Annesley. Annelsey had a bright start to his career – Orinoco was shown at Waddingtons gallery in 1966 (another important gallery at the time) and further edition of this work is in the Tate collection. While Caro remains one of the most celebrated British artists, Annesley has been somewhat overlooked. (Illustrated above: Anthony Caro’s Cleeve sculpture of 1965 with David Annesley’s work Orinoco of 1965.)
Robyn Denny was another ‘star-artist of the 60s a sensation before he left art school in the late 50s, he represented Britain at the 1966 Venice Biennale – two years before Bridget Riley shot to
international fame by winning the International Painting prize. In 1973, Denny became the youngest artist (at that point) to have a retrospective at the Tate but this show almost drew a line under his career, despite him remaining very much active as an artist. Denny’s large-scale, urban architectural paintings were designed as a physical experience, to surround the viewer and draw them in to their sharp interiors. (illustrated right: Robyn Denny’s Ted Bentley of 1961, together with Briget Riley’s Image I, Revised White of 1967, on loan, private collection.)
4th – 11th September 2013, Sotheby’s, New Bond Street