Saturday, 4 June 2011

Ida Kar and The Farm

Paid a visit to the Ida Kar exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery today. Worth seeing if you are interested in the artistic, literary and bohemian milieu of London in the 1950s and 1960s, as I am. One photograph in particular caught my eye - the caption referring to a coffee house I hadn't heard of before: The Farm at 14 Monmouth Street, run by Brian Robins (1928-1988) and his wife Susan.

When Brian Robins met Ida Kar and her husband Victor Musgrave he was apparently working as the last lamplighter in London; he was also a self-taught sculptor, who later became known for his kinetic sculptures. According to the catalogue (NPG No.68) The Farm was a short-lived coffee shop in the basement "which became a meeting-place for young artists and poets after the couple opened it on 23 June 1959. As well as selling coffee, its aim, according to Robins, ‘was to show works which the commercial galleries would not show…I felt that art freed from the purse strings would give it more scope and personality.’ Robins showed work by Gustav Metzger, Roger Mitchell and Susan Bryan. The last exhibit before the closure of The Farm in May 1960 was Robins’ painting machine, which produced a picture every twenty minutes.’"

Robins also helped Metzger publish the first manifesto of Auto-Destructive Art dated 4 November 1959 in which it was stated that, ‘Auto-destructive paintings, sculptures and constructions have a lifetime varying from a few moments to twenty years. When the disintegrating process is complete the work is to be removed from the site and scrapped.’

From 9-30 November 1959 Metzger exhibited 'Cardboards' a series of 'pictures’ made from cardboard boxes; he was interviewed by the Daily Express which published a story the next day with the headline, ‘Bearded man trips over a box and finds a new form of art…IT’S PICTURES FROM PACKING CASES’ (Museum of Modern Art Oxford 1999 catalogue pp24-28)

In December 1962 Metzger delivered a lecture/demonstration at Ealing Art College with slides and film entitled Auto-Destructive Art, Auto-Creative Art: The Struggle for the Machine Arts of the Future. One rapt member of the audience was art student Pete Townshend who acknowledged the effect of the lecture on his thought and later went on to play out his own auto-destructive art through his guitar smashing antics with the Who.

The artist went 'on strike' for a number of years (if only more would follow suit - Stewart Home was another fellow 'striker' for a time) and disappeared from view (although he would regularly come in to where I work) before being 'rediscovered' by a new generation.

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