Art Review: Forced Journeys @ Ben Uri

By Lindsey Last edited 121 months ago
Art Review: Forced Journeys @ Ben Uri

Self Portrait with Red Hat by Marie-Louise von Motesiczky 1938
Forced Journeys is a study of artists in exile in Britain, c.1933-45, largely (though not exclusively) of German and Austrian descent, but with roots from across Europe and the Middle East. They are artists who came to Britain to escape the the Nazi regime either because they were Jewish or because of their so called "degenerate" modern art but once reaching our supposedly safe shores, promptly found themselves rounded up as 'enemy aliens' and put in internment camps.

The exhibition comprises around 90 works and includes painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography, posters, sculpture and ephemera but what's really special are the personal stories that are not only behind every work but manifest in them. This self-portrait, for example, shows the artist waving goodbye to Austria just before the Anschluss, her jolly red hat not sitting very comfortably with her desolate expression. Content is often bleak with haunted faces and blank eyes; broken hostile landscapes and ghoulish imaginings. Materials in camps were scarce so here are linocuts, paintings on wood, sketches in charcoal. Frames, if any, are basic. Yet some of the work is glorious; a pair of wonderful portraits by Kurt Schwitters and the macabre, darkly textured (massive) Organ Grinder by Ernst Eisenmayer amongst many others, repay gazing.

In the context of the second World War, these are stories that are rarely told and this small exhibition deserves a big audience. Read reviews from the FT and the Spectator to persuade you to venture to NW8.

Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art is at 108A Boundary Road, NW8. Open Mon-Thurs 10-5.30, Friday 10-3.30, Sunday 12-4. Admission £5/4. Forced Journeys: Artists in Exile in Britain c.1933-45 runs until 19 April.

Last Updated 19 February 2009