The Ben Uri Gallery is celebrating it centenary with two exhibition, one at King’s College London in Somerset House; the other in its own gallery in north London.
Originally founded as an art society in 1915 by Jewish émigrés in London’s Whitechapel area, it supported artists such as David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein, Jacob Kramer and Mark Gertler to become established in Britain. Today the Ben Uri Gallery is the home of a major collection of modern British art with over 1300 works by 380 artists who originated from 35 different countries. The exhibition Out of Chaos; Ben Uri: 100 Years in London at King’s College London reflects on its 100 year old history and its new strategy to be London’s first Museum of Art Identity and Migration as it seeks to reach new audiences.
The exhibition covers the last century with highlights including Epstein’s bust of Jacob Kramer (1921) bought in 2003, Mark Gertler’s “Merry-Go-Round” (1916) now in the Tate Gallery and Marc Chagall’s “Apocalypse en lilas, Capriccio” from 1945 which commemorates both the victims of the Holocaust and the sudden death of his own wife in 1944. There are many portraits and works which illustrate the life of immigrants back in their own countries were they have often been persecuted and here in Britain. The Collection does not stand still and continues to collect works by contemporary artists such as Dorothy Bohm’s “Torn Poster” of 1990 and Natan Dvir’s “Homesh Evacuation” (2007)
At a time when immigration is a controversial political topic, a diagram on the corridor walls illustrates the scale of migration from different countries that gives London its rich culture nd international character.
Since 2002, the Ben Uri Gallery has been based in a small gallery space in north London while it searches for a new and larger space in the centre of the city so it can show more of its collection and engage a wider audience than it can in its current base. “No Set Rules” explores 100 years of drawing and art on paper with works from the Philip Schlee collection in Southampton and from its own collection. 37 artists are represented including Graham Sutherland, Elizabeth Frink, Henry Moore, David Hockney, Tony Cragg, Frank Auerbach and Eduardo Paolozzi.
The Ben Uri Gallery is a hidden gem in north London. These exhibitions will enable it to achieve greater recognition and perhaps assist in its aim to find a new and more appropriate base to enable it to develop into the 21st century.