National Museum of Wales
Thursday 19th November 2015 and the official opening of Silent Destruction was an historical day for The National Museum of Wales, and indeed for contemporary art in Wales. This is the first time the museum has held a solo exhibition for a major contemporary artist. Silent Destruction takes us on an impressive historical visual journey in to not only the life and works of artist Ifor Davies, who celebrated his 80th birthday this past November, but also the story of art in the last seven decades.
Ifor Davies is one of Wales’ most important and respected contemporary artists living and working in Wales today, a founding member of the Beca movement in the seventies, a former vice-president of the Royal Academy, a National Eisteddfod gold medal-winner, and an MBE; Davies is without doubt the most appropriate start to a dialogue on contemporary arts of this scale at NMW. The exhibition was opened by Andrew Renton, custodian of the art of Museum Wales, Ifor Davies, David Anderson, General Director Museum of Wales, and Mathew Pritchard, Chairman of the Colwinston Charity Trust, who also announced two other solo exhibitions in the near future to feature the works of Gillian Ayres and David Nash. It was an exciting opening with around 200 attendants, many artists and people who work within the arts, here to see some works which have never been exhibited before. They included paintings from as early as the 1940’s; five drawings made by a four-year-old Davies during the Cardiff blitz of WW2 to Picasso-like paintings, and a “self-destructing” poem.
Destruction is the theme throughout both the exhibition and Davies’ career; he has an interest in destruction in all its forms. The “Destruction in Art, London” movement is outstanding. The content of this section holds many records of public interest and international importance regardless of one’s interest in the arts. Davies is possibly the first artist in Europe to use explosives as an art form, these radical artistic expressions such as “Anatomic Explosion” and others are shown in black and white films, documenting these art events from the 60’s, along with hand-written documents and photos, and archive art installation.
Ifor Davies sees life as a sequence of destructions, seeing it in everything and embracing it; this acceptance of an inevitability brings out the beauty within. He has described the debris following the explosion as autumn leaves falling.
One of the earliest known performance art events in Wales, ‘Adam on St Agnes’ Eve’, in Swansea, 1968, can be seen again, fifty years prior to its original creation, as a contemporary reinterpretation. This is a distinctive endeavor made by the exhibition curator Nicolas Thornton and researcher Judith Bodor from Aberystwyth University, who closely worked with Davies on the traces left of the performance’s original instructions.
The most recent works are positioned at the beginning of the exhibition. The winning entry of the Gold Medal at the National Eisteddfod in 2002, ‘Writing On The Wall’, is a hard-hitting piece focussed on the destruction of language and the affects on communities in Wales; a Welsh bible is sawed in half along with two other books, William Williams’ Pantycelyn and To Research Art by David Jones (and edited by Davies himself). Penetrating the language is a shot gun.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the importance of the movement, there were only two pieces of Beca works at the exhibition. It could be argued the Beca movement is an extension of the “Destruction In Art”; it is an important part of Ifor’s identity both artistically and personally, an essential part of his career. It is the embodiment of what he brought back with him to Wales from studying at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in the early sixties, and how this influenced Welsh art and artists living in Wales. One of the Beca works, and my personal favorite, is “Llyfr Beca”, a book made from two framed paintings hinged together, hung ambiguously from the roof, tied ruthlessly with old rope, impossible to open and out of reach.
That for the first time Davies’ work is exhibited solo in Wales and not at the other end of the M4 is an achievement in itself, and a sign perhaps the establishment is beginning to reassess the attention it pays to some of Wales’ most significant talents. There are to be a series of events held in 2016, including talks, performances, workshops and seminars, that will augment this rich and ambitious life-showing. It should not be missed.
Exhibition ends 20th March 2016
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(Images printed with kind permission)