Sunday, 10 February 2013
Artists' International Association (AIA)
The association's aim was to promote the 'Unity of Artists for Peace, Democracy and Cultural Development'. It also aimed to promote wider access to art through travelling exhibitions and public art projects. The Artists International Association was a response to the social and political conflicts of the 1930s. It embraced all aspects of practice and held a series of group exhibitions. The AIA supported the left-wing Republican side in the Spanish Civil War through exhibitions and other fund-raising activities. The Association was also involved in the settling of artists displaced by the Nazi regime in Germany. Many of those linked with the Association were also pacifists.
An association of left-wing British artists founded in London in 1932 with the aim of achieving ‘the unity of artists against Fascism and war and the suppression of culture’. Originally it was called Artists International, but it added the word ‘Association’ to its name when it was reconstituted in 1935. It continued until 1971, but abandoned its political objectives in 1953, thereafter existing as an exhibiting society. Initially there were 32 members, mainly commercial artists and designers, although they also included the German-born Marxist art historian Francis Klingender (1907–55), who described his work as ‘theoretical and historical studies designed to elucidate the role of art as one of the great value-forming agencies in the social structure and social change’. The first chairman was the industrial designer Misha Black (1910–77), who later played an important role in the Festival of Britain. At the outset the position of the group was avowedly Marxist and its activities included producing pamphlets, posters, and other propaganda material (making use of facilities at the Central School of Art, where one of the founder members, James Fitton (1899–1982), taught lithography). Modern art, with its ‘negation of content’, was viewed with some suspicion as a sign of bourgeois decadence, but after the Association was reconstituted in 1935 it became much less doctrinaire and attracted support from artists working in a wide range of styles. Its exhibition ‘Artists against Fascism and War’ (1935), for example, included work by Robert Medley, Henry Moore, and Paul Nash, and by the end of the Second World War the Association had more than a thousand members. In addition to holding exhibitions, the AIA published a journal (sporadically and under different titles and formats, beginning as Artists International Bulletin, 1934–5) and also a book of essays entitled 5 on Revolutionary Art (1935). This was edited by the sculptor Betty Rea and the five contributors were Eric Gill, the ethnomusicologist A. L. Lloyd, Klingender, Herbert Read who gamely made the case, unpopular in the AIA, for the avant-garde against realism, and the writer Alick West.