Sussex Modernism Exhibition

Hoares kindly hosted the Sussex Modernism exhibition.

In the early 20th century Sussex was a hotbed of innovation and experimentation. Some of this was surprisingly racy. In the period between the world wars sex, domesticity and politics were upended and reformed. The exhibition ‘Sussex Modernism: Retreat or Rebellion’ pulls together art from Sussex which at first blush seems disparate but is discovered to be interconnecting. Various factions – the Bloomsbury group, Eric Gill, Lee Miller, Vanessa Bell, arts and crafts, surrealists – dovetailed creating sensational art and living sensational lives.

The juxtaposition of ‘modernist’ art in the high Victoriana of Two Temple Place highlights just how unconventional these artists were. At the start of the exhibition there’s a small marble coffer carved with a glorious naked woman which was given by a group of poets – including Ezra Pound – to their mentor. He hated it – and being more traditional and prurient – turned her nakedness to the wall. The objects on show range from the homely (Gill’s carved grass rollers) to the homo-erotic (the bathers shown above). Salvador Dali’s iconic (1938) lips sofa turns out not to be his after all – well at least not exclusively – but instead resulted from a collaboration with Edward James. James’s fabulously suggestive lips were based on Mae West’s pout. He was divorced for being openly gay when homosexuality was kept in a firmly closed closet and escaped to Sussex to avoid censure. The photos of the wild Dali and Picasso in the sleepy ‘little TinkerBell towne’ (sic) and Downs of Sussex are strikingly incongruous.

Last century Sussex attracted the unconventional and the pioneering. It’s the same today. Sussex is brimming with innovators creating Sparkling wine. At lunch, C. Hoare & Co proudly served Sparkling from Sussex to their guests who downed Ambriel with joy. Clearly people of taste. If she were here, Mae West would lick her lips in anticipation.

Exhibition runs until 23 April – see