One of the exhibition’s rooms is transformed into a gallery of paintings by Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in a layout and environment characterized by exactly the ideals they revolted against. Another room is dedicated to Omega Workshops, a studio that was started by the same trio where they, together with other artists, designed furniture, clothing and furnishings.
An important venue that will be recreated is Charleston, Vanessa Bell’s summer house in Sussex, which became the hub of the entire Bloomsbury group. At Artipelag’s entrance courtyard, before even entering the art gallery, visitors walk through a Charleston-inspired garden that continues in the gallery, complete with ivy, roses and boxwood.
The exhibition discusses the Bloomsbury group’s utopias, such as the overall conversation, Gesamtkunstwerk and nudity. The Cadena Café, which Omega Workshops renovated in London in 1917, is recreated and will function as a reading room and gathering place.
About the Bloomsbury Group
The Bloomsbury group’s ideas, characterized by immigration, fundamentalism, salvation and violence, challenge us as much in our own time as in they did in the early 1900s.
By the time of the First World War, Sweden was isolated, and it wasn’t until the thirties that modernism broke through. It was a technical, ”hard modernism” that became prominent, and with the Stockholm exhibition in 1930, rational functionalism was the political sway of the new Swedish welfare society. The Bloomsbury group, on the other hand, stood for an alternative, a third way: ”soft modernism”. The group’s attitude was soft, open and flexible. Its style was bold and pluralistic rather than uniform, hard and shiny.
The group consisted of a loose collection of authors, artists, politicians, economists, historians, critics, mathematicians. At first, they were just friends and students, but later on they broke through as their time’s new thinkers – Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Clive Bell, E.M. Forster and Leonard Woolf. Other more peripheral members were, for example, Bertrand Russell, Ottoline Morrell and Vita Sackville-West.
The members loathed heroism and authority. For them, modernism meant that old and new could be put together in any conceivable patterns and combinations. They celebrated imagination, feeling and creation without rejecting reason. Their crossing of boundaries was a matter of course because, according to them, the meaning of life was discussion, friendship, truth-seeking and aesthetics. It was this that was specifically human.
The group got its name from the London district of Bloomsbury where they were originally based. During World War I, many of them moved to the countryside and practised a counterurbanization lifestyle. Many of the houses are derelict today, but Charleston farm in Sussex remains as a Bloomsbury jewel, characterized by the aesthetics typical of the group: a rough-around-the-edges environment for creative work, play and discussion crossing all boundaries. A slightly chaotic, inclusive atmosphere, where inside and out come together, where everything (worn out or modern, newly built or classical) could be recycled and transformed with a lick of paint. Acrobats and painted sculptures hang on doorposts interspersed with abstract ornaments. And then a burst of flowers – brushed or printed, in wreaths or still life. Or real. In Charleston’s garden, the same gentle and courageous aesthetics as indoors are found. The whole environment was an affront to established norms.
In addition to books, exhibitions and buzzing conversations, the Bloomsbury group ran important networks – the Hogarth Press, the first to introduce Modernist Literature in England, and Omega Workshops, a collective artist workshop and showroom for all of the art of the time, such as painting, textile, design, dance, fashion and decorations.
The radicalism of the Bloomsbury group was based on the fact that everything (except their existential goals) could and should be tried and tested. They ignored conventions. Ideas and creations were central. For the arts were the essence of life and never tools for other purposes. This included Keynes, who in Sweden is mainly known as a world-leading economist. But he was also a passionate hedonist, culture politician and art connoisseur.
The playful attitude and lifestyle of the Bloomsburg group challenges Swedish social morality, where the arts have always been inferior to specialists, social engineers, function and utility.
The greatest artist was Virginia Woolf. She was an author, critic and entomologist. She was also a feminist and heavily involved in the international, modernist paintings, presented by Roger Fry to a shocked London audience at two major post-impressionist exhibitions in 1910 and 1912. Virginia Woolf described them as a catalyst for ”a whole new era”.
Bloomsberries have become idols who advocate feminism, sexual freedom, pacifism and intellectual gluttony in everything from science and society to art. But over the years they have also received much criticism – they haven’t fitted into any mold. In retrospect, you can see that they introduced a much more liberal modernism than that preached in the German Bauhaus of the same period, and that they lived according to the ideals of the French Revolution. They were the best of European enlightenment traditions, while at the same time, and in contrast to us today, believing in the future.
About the Exhibition
External curator for the exhibition is the art critic and author Ingela Lind in collaboration with Artipelag’s art department, consisting of director Bo Nilsson, curator Frida Andersson, digital producer and designer Samuel Lind, chief engineer Johan von Geijer, and Kristina Lindemann, pedagogy and program manager. The design of the gardens is by Ia Schildt and the exhibition’s fashion has been created together with Cay Bond.
Next spring, Ingela Lind releases her new book, Ta sig frihet – Bloomsburygruppen, Indien och konsten att leva, “To Take the Liberty – The Bloomsbury Group, India and the Art of Living” (Albert Bonniers Förlag, will be released on March 23rd, 2018) in which she analyzes the group’s alternative and free modernism. Previously, Ingela has written Leka med modernismen – Virginia Woolf och Bloomsburygruppen, “Playing with Modernism – Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group” (Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2008).
For Bloomsbury Spirit, Artipelag has loaned unique works by, among others, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry from English institutions such as the TATE, Victoria & Albert Museum, Courtauld Gallery, The Charleston Trust and the National Portrait Gallery.
Gustav Idhammar, Artipelag, email@example.com, tel +46 (0)70-710 53 55
Artipelag is a world-class meeting place where art shows, cultural activities, architecture, music, events, Swedish design, and good food live side by side with the beautiful archipelago environment. Artipelag is located at Hålludden, which itself is situated on Värmdö, about 20 minutes by car from Stockholm city centre. The building comprises 10,220 m² and is carefully placed among pines and cliffs with magnificent views over Baggensfjärden. Artipelag was designed by the late architect Johan Nyrén.