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Resist: be modern (again)

25 May 2019 - 17 August 2019

Curated by Alice Maude-Roxby and Stefanie Seibold, 'Resist: be modern (again)' explores the practices of women artists, designers and writers of the 1920s and 30s through the work of contemporary artists. These pioneering women were important groundbreakers for their time. Their battles against social conventions and aesthetic dogmas opened the way for today’s expanded field of art, as well as contemporary personal freedoms and rights to individualism. 
 
'Resist: be modern (again)' looks back at these revolutionary art, design, performative and written practices. Using the lens of contemporary art, theory and design, the exhibition highlights the importance and influence of these long-lost early avant-garde practices into the present. 'Resist: be modern (again)' showcases collaborations between women who, due to either gender, sexuality or ethnicity, have been censored out, devalued or marginalised over time. This exhibition brings their practice and contribution out of the archives and into the foreground. Contemporary artists reactivate and represent these early practices through mapping, transcribing, sampling, referencing, reciting, re-telling or re-making, reclaiming their lasting value and importance for today’s art world and beyond.
 
The artists, designers, writers, editors, film-makers and performers referenced within Resist: be modern (again) include: writer Virginia Woolf, textile designers Barron and Larcher, Enid Marx, photographer Berenice Abbott and writer and art critic Elizabeth McCausland, legendary club proprietor and jazz singer Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith, film-maker Esther Eng, artist, performer and poet Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Lohringhoven, and editors of the 1920s American literary journal ‘The Little Review’, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap. All of whom were responsible for highly innovative art, design and publishing, much of which has been largely erased from the art historical canon.
 
The exhibition spans continents, exploring the link between a ‘lost generation’ of collaborative women in Paris with the Harlem Renaissance in the USA to concepts of queerness in the Bloomsbury Set in the UK. The show reveals the multiple links between different practitioners of the time, highlighting the importance of those interconnections and how they created such an immensely rich web of relationships and influences. Resist: be modern (again) centres around a series of new commissions and existing works by a selection of international contemporary artists. These works draw upon both specific historic individuals and the wider cultural and historical context surrounding the development of Modernism during the early 20th Century, focussing on its overlooked and marginalised women protagonists. Using a range of media, including photography, film, installation, drawing, textile and sculpture, the contemporary works in Resist: be modern (again) reintroduce specific individual practitioners as well as highlighting the ongoing importance and significance of their pioneering works. 'Resist: be modern (again)' reexamines these important legacies and shows us how we can learn from an overlooked past outside of a mainstream standard in order to navigate our own complex present.
 
'Resist: be modern (again)' is a John Hansard Gallery exhibition, with financial support from Arts Council England, Middlesex University, Arts & Culture Division of the Federal Chancellery of Austria.
 
Berenice Abbott
Berenice Abbott, ‘Gunsmith', 1937. © Berenice Abbott / Museum of the City of New York