The Second Hand: Reworked Art Over Time is the collective, culminating project of the MA Curating the Art Museum course at the Courtauld Institute of Art. This year, the 12 students were challenged to respond to The Courtauld Gallery’s summer showcase Unfinished… Works from the Courtauld Gallery running concurrently and adjacent to our own exhibition. Equipped with special access to The Courtauld collection and the Arts Council Collection, the MA Curating team has responded with The Second Hand, which is running at The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House, London, between 18 June and 19 July 2015.
It all started with a ripped drawing. A mysterious, jutting tear at the top right corner of Wyndham Lewis’ 1920 drawing of Ezra Pound effectively decapitates the seated figure and acts as a boundary between Lewis’ drawing and that of another hand. It was in this torn, incomplete state that 37 years later, and after Lewis’ death, fellow artist and close friend Michael Ayrton found this work and took it upon himself to reunite the body with a new head. He “re-finished” it, if you like. Their mutual admiration of each other’s work gave Ayrton the confidence to replicate Lewis’ stylistic draughtsmanship and return the drawing to a state of completion once more: an act which raises questions of authorship, authority, homage, collaboration, and even forced artistic interventions. Why did Ayrton feel the need to intervene and somehow salvage the damaged sketch? What right did he have to add his own drawing of Pound’s head? What would Lewis have thought of this intervention, had he been alive to witness the result?
Thanks to the ripped drawing, a number of questions and ideas began to germinate in our minds. Is this type of “re-finishing” a common artistic practice? How does it manifest in art history? What are the reasons behind one artist physically altering, changing, or adding to the work of another? What are the different ways in which artists “re-work” existing art? They lead us to explore both the Courtauld and Art Council collections with a more focused intent: to discover works of art that had, at some point, been touched by more than one artist’s hand. And so began our search for the ‘Second Hand’.
Wyndham Lewis; repaired and reworked by Michael Ayrton,
EZRA POUND, 1920 (reworked 1957). Pencil, 35.5 x 51 cm.
The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust:
On long-term loan to The Courtauld Gallery, London ©
The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust/ The Bridgman Art Library