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First major exhibition exploring Gluck's life and work on view at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
Gluck, Sketching on the Moors, 1919 (detail).

BRIGHTON.- The 20th century artist Gluck (1895-1978), now also recognised as a trailblazer of gender fluidity, is the subject of a major new exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

Thanks mainly to money raised by National Lottery players, Gluck: Art & Identity brings together around 30 rarely-seen paintings and extensive personal ephemera – in the world’s first major exhibition exploring the artist’s life and work.

Born Hannah Gluckstein into a wealthy Jewish family, Gluck attended art school in London and ran away to Cornwall with fellow students during World War I. The artist mixed with the Newlyn School of painters, and was sketched by Alfred Munnings smoking a pipe in Roma-style dress, before adopting the name Gluck and creating a controversial masculine identity incorporating men’s tailoring, barber-cut short hair and a mannish demeanor.

Gluck, who demanded “no prefix, suffix, or quotes”, became known in the inter-war years for portraits, land- and seascapes and stage scenes, and in the 1930s for floral paintings – influenced by society florist Constance Spry with whom the artist was having a relationship.

Having developed a cult following among collectors and celebrities in the second half of the 20th century, many Gluck paintings are today owned by private individuals and seldom exhibited. This major public exhibition brings together key works like The Devil’s Altar (1932), which depicts Constance’s favourite flower Brugmansia and was donated to Brighton in 1953 in an innovative three-tiered frame developed by the artist (see Notes).

Other paintings in the exhibition range from The Pine Cone, painted in 1919, to Credo (Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light) of 1970/3. Key inclusions are the signature Lilies (1932-36), which perfectly complemented the fashionable all-white interiors of its time, the striking nude Primavera (1920) and the almost-black The Punt (c.1937), which depicts Gluck lying with lover Nesta Obermer in a punt on Plumpton’s pond.

Taking the experimental approach of a forensic investigation, the exhibition also presents other surviving evidence of Gluck’s life – including clothing (mostly worn by girlfriends and preserved by Gluck), accessories, photographs, press cuttings and personal ephemera. This was largely donated by Gluck to Brighton & Hove’s collections, a year before the artist’s death.

The exhibition is part of the project ‘Wear it Out’, a partnership with The Centre for Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £64,800. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the project explores the cultural heritage of dress of LGBTQ communities in Sussex (1917 – 2017), looking at how dress is used to express identities and sexualities of individuals who identify as LGBTQ (see Notes for more info).

It has been curated by Martin Pel, Curator of Fashion at Brighton Museum, Amy de la Haye, Professor of Dress History at London College of Fashion, UAL, and exhibition-maker Jeffrey Horsley, post-doctoral research fellow at London College of Fashion’s Centre for Fashion Curation – working with The Fine Art Society, Gluck’s gallery on London’s Bond Street.

Martin Pel said, “Gluck’s artistic significance has arguably been obscured in the last 50 years by the artist’s role as a figurehead and pioneer of LGBTQ lives. So with this exhibition we were keen to survey both Gluck’s personal narrative and the significance of the artworks, within the history of 20th century British art.”

Jeffrey Horsley said: “Gluck: Art & Identity will be an exhibition as biography, celebrating Gluck’s work and dressed appearance using innovative techniques to reflect the curators’ explorations into the artist’s life story. But unlike conventional biographies the exhibition will reveal the dead ends, contradictions, unanswered questions and absent evidence they faced as they delved into Gluck’s past.

“This approach will also allow visitors to trace a path through Gluck’s life led by their own personal interests, rather than following a definitive narrative line, and reveal a fascinating story interweaving the personal and the professional.”

A new, accompanying book has been published by Yale University Press, with contributions from the curators and exhibition maker as well as Gill Clarke, Simon Martin, Diana Souhami, Andrew McIntosh Patrick and Elizabeth Wilson.

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