Art History: The Abbey Art Centre: A post WW2 artist colony
The Abbey Art Centre: A post WW2 artist colony
Models for writing art history range between globalised world views, national, regional or local histories, the enduring monograph and topics from art movements to issue-based accounts. But how do we accommodate the artist colony, which attracts artists from elsewhere, of differing nationalities, brought together in a single geo-spatial frame.
Stemming from a current ARC Discovery project examining one artist colony, the Abbey Art Centre, on the rural outskirts of post WW2 London, falls into a different category, one that reflected the effects of exiled European artists and transient Australian artists. At a time when major geo-political, economic and cultural postwar reconstruction was underway, the Abbey Art Centre, formed along lines of socialist and utopian patronage, offered a unique spatial and creative modality that operated within a potent framework of ethnographic modernism. This paper considers the ‘all-but-forgotten’ Abbey Art Centre as a collage of postwar cultural predicaments and offers an important lens for reassessing transnational artistic experimentation and modernist production.
Dr Sheridan Palmer is an art historian, curator and a senior research associate at the University of Melbourne, and a Fellow of the Centre of Visual Art, VCA. She is currently working on the ARC project ‘The Abbey Art Centre: Reassessing postwar Australian modernism’. Her major publications include: Hegels Owl: The Life of Bernard Smith, Power Publications, Sydney, 2016; Editor, 3rd edition of Bernard Smith’s European Vision and the South Pacific, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2022; Centre of the Periphery: Three European Art Historians in Melbourne, ASP, 2008; Antipodean Perspective: Selected Writings of Bernard Smith, co-edited with Rex Butler, Monash University Publishing, 2018.
Peter Graham and Douglas Green, Abbey Art Centre (c. 1947-49). Unknown photographer, private collection, courtesy the artists’ estates