Review Round Up: Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-65, Barbican

We round up the reviews for the Barbican’s latest art exhibition examining the artwork created in the aftermath of World War II.

FN Souza’s The Agony of Christ, 1958. Photograph: All rights reserved, DACS 2022, photograph courtesy Britten Pears Arts.

The Observer: ***** “This is an enthralling exhibition, bringing Cooke and many other overlooked figures back before the public eye and connecting all of these artists in the context of a cataclysm that overshadowed the country for decades.”

Time Out: ***** “This exhibition is a premonition, a warning. In all the heaving, dark, post-apocalyptic paint and steel created by the artists in Britain in the wake of World War II, you see a roadmap for how our own lives could be after war today, and it’s brutally harrowing.”

Evening Standard: **** “This is a large scale exhibition timed to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the Barbican arts centre – the Barbican estate itself being a product of the bombardment of Cripplegate. Yep, it’s forty years of the most alienating space in London. But this exhibition makes a merit of the unique character of the place; as the catalogue puts it, it’s “an opportunity to see Brutalist works in a Brutalist space and, more broadly, extraordinary postwar art perfectly sited in an iconic postwar edifice”.”

iNews: ***** “Hanging over the whole of this show, with its nightmare heads, and photographs of youthful figures partying in broken cityscapes, is the long shadow of the war. On the one hand this is a show about building a new life, a new world, and new kinds of art: on the other it is about the legacy of violence, destruction, bereavement and deracination.”

The Arts Desk: **** “One of the pleasures of the show is the inclusion of artists who’ve been overlooked. Magda Cordell was a member of the Independent Group alongside Paolozzi and Turnbull. Her huge painting Figure 59, 1959 features a flattened carcass suspended on a cream ground. This majestic shape is traversed by arteries pulsing with a vibrant red suggestive of life as well as carnage.”

The Times: **** “This show may well be the most sombre you’ve seen. It’s not that you would expect work that follows in the wake of a cataclysm to be particularly jolly, but I, for one, had anticipated a little more optimism. I had presumed that I would be encountering serene St Ives pieces or bearing witness to the first bright explosions of pop art. Instead, I found myself wading deeper into lands of dark monochrome. And the show feels all the more fascinating for that.”

Culture Whisper: **** “If you go to Postwar Modern, and we recommend you do, give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the works on display and ponder their import at a time when war in Europe again raises its ugly head.”

The Telegraph: ** “The Barbican’s attempt to reassess post-war art is substantial – but it’s also patchy, fails at its central task, and proves heavy-going.”

City Am: “This is an exhaustive show full of potent energy and ideas; but it proves that out of destruction and chaos, we can choose to create and find empathy. The overall effect is strangely one of overwhelming up- lift, that even when humanity is at its darkest, art has the power to unite.”

Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965 is on display at the Barbican until the 26th June.

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