Cardiff Press Release

Silent Explosion: Ivor Davies and Destruction in Art

(National Museum Wales Cardiff, 14th November 2015 – 20th March, 2016)

The biggest single-artist exhibition ever held at the National Museum, yet the tip of an active iceberg. Silent Explosion reveals creation-destruction-movement, as eternally fluid forces, in Ivor Davies’s work from 1940 through eight decades to today. Davies was the first artist in Britain and perhaps Europe to use explosives substantially and also to make them part of elaborate multi-media works. He decided to centre this exhibition on his archive of the famous 1966 London Destruction in Art Symposium, which he helped Gustav Metzger organise. As a leading participant, he had decided in 1966 that he would  conserve systematically what is now probably the biggest extant archive of Destruction in Art -- films and photographs of happenings, documents, letters, press releases and ephemera, shown together now for the first time: as if an installation at the heart of the National Museum Wales Cardiff’s Contemporary Art galleries.

Besides this 1960s archive’s obvious importance for scholars, the exhibition, occupying the five extensive galleries of the Museum’s West Wing, also reveals both rarely-seen and celebrated paintings by Ivor Davies, as well constructions and unusual media: startling, serious and exciting. Ivor Davies’s career explodes the myth of art as a static record of experience and gives value and respect to fragments, memories, disintegration and transience in human existence and organic forces. An exhibition containing paintings which themselves were often happenings over time, and performances which are the creations of a painter, a painter working somewhat like a film director. This is an exhibition where the art of violent surprise meets thoughtful political anger.

Between 1963 and 1978, Ivor Davies was Lecturer in Art History at Edinburgh University, in charge of the Modern Period, with research and publications on many aspects of art but particularly modernism, and early twentieth-century Russian painting, theatre and film. He was also the founding Curator of Edinburgh University’s Talbot Rice Gallery (1970-1978). The creative power of his paintings and often violent performance work during his Edinburgh period interacts intriguingly with this context of academic scholarship, teaching and with a mission to present contemporary art to a wide public. The 1960s series of destructivist happenings, seen in surviving films at the heart of this exhibition, is considered today part of an explosion of avant-garde multi-media art in Scotland in the mid and late 1960s. The period also saw the assertion by radical Scottish artists that artists themselves, rather than professional critics and historians, were the most illuminating analysts of contemporary art, and also that artists could be simultaneously international and national – a contention with obvious parallels in the career of Ivor Davies. Indeed, the exhibition surrounds these happenings, devised and mostly performed in Scotland and London, with galleries that show paintings that confirm Ivor Davies’s whole career as that of a leading, and simultaneously international, artist of Wales – by subject-matter, historical, linguistic and literary allusion, and political commitments.