Open Secret

Imperial War Museum, London.

20 May 2004 to 31 Oct 2004

© Victor Sloan

Most of the paintings, drawings, prints and photographs in this exhibition have been acquired by the Department of Art since the millennium. Some items were acquired in the previous two decades, such as the large poster prints by Michael Peel, which came into the collection over a number of years from the mid-1980s. Almost all of it is being exhibited at the Imperial War Museum for the first time.

The group of works from the First and Second World Wars, such as the drypoint of Piccadilly Circus in 1918 by Sir Muirhead Bone, and the two drawings by John Aldridge, were all produced independently of official wartime commissions. `Unofficial war art’, which has been a feature of the Department’s acquisition policy for many years, reveals a personal and spontaneous response to wartime phenomena that co-existed with more formal commissioned art. In the Second World War, Kenneth Clark’s War Artists Advisory Committee regularly purchased individual works from artists and public exhibitions such as those organised by the Allied Artists Association.

Painting, drawing and other `hand-made’ media continue to be a subtle and effective means of conveying states of mind. The images of stealth bombers and missiles by Peter Kalkhof, Jack Milroy and Colin Self can be seen as a symbolic means of coming to terms with objects that provoke feelings of anxiety and fear. Darren Almond, Alison Turnbull, Glenys Johnson and Paul Ryan examine architectural structures – a floor plan of an underground bomb factory designed by Albert Speer, houses built for military target practice, the concentration camp at Auschwitz – in images that distil the history of destruction.

Contemporary photography forms an increasingly important part of the art collection, and the work by Angus Boulton and Ed Whittaker shows how effectively it documents forgetting and neglect. It is also an endlessly flexible medium, as demonstrated by Victor Sloan, Paul Seawright and Frauke Eigen; their work is an eye-witness response in the classic sense – reflective and personal rather than journalistic.

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