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Major new exhibition at National Museum Cardiff is Silent Explosion by one of Wales’ leading contemporary artists, Ivor Davies

This autumn sees a major new exhibition by one of Wales’ leading contemporary artists, Ivor Davies. Silent Explosion: Ivor Davies and Destruction in Art opens at National Museum Cardiff on Saturday 14 November – 20 March 2016 and reveals Davies’ enduring interest in the creative power of destruction and features work in various media including painting, sculpture and performance, spanning the artist’s career from the 1940s through to the present day.

Artist, art historian and activist Ivor Davies is one of the foremost figures in contemporary Welsh art. Originally from Treharris, Penarth based artist, Davies, has enjoyed a long and prolific career within the visual arts in Wales. A former lecturer, much of Davies’ work is stimulated by Welsh culture and politics.

He was awarded the Gold Medal for Fine Art at the National Eisteddfod in St David's in 2002. The Ivor Davies Award, presented since 2003, seeks to reward work that conveys the spirit of activism in the struggle for language, culture and politics, within the annual Y Lle Celf Open Exhibition at the National Eisteddfod.

Installed throughout the Museum’s six contemporary galleries, Silent Explosion, the largest solo exhibition by a contemporary artist ever staged in Wales, is not a traditional retrospective but focuses on Davies’ preoccupation with the creative power of destruction.  Silent Explosion is curated by Nicholas Thornton, Head of Fine Art at Amgueddfa Cymru and Judit Bodor, doctoral researcher at Aberystwyth University. The exhibition is supported by the Colwinston Charitable Trust, the Arts & Humanities Research Council, with additional support from the Henry Moore Foundation.

The show opens with paintings and assemblages made in the last decade which are powerful expressions of Davies’ political engagement to protect the language and culture of Wales. The show concludes with childhood drawings made by Davies during the Cardiff Blitz. In this way the exhibition takes the visitor on a reverse chronological journey through Davies’ artistic life.

Although Davies has exhibited his work widely, Silent Explosion also features whole series of works not seen in public for over fifty years. These include mysterious, Picasso influenced paintings made during the mid-1950s when he was experimenting with adding broken egg-shells to his painted surfaces. Another series are a group of powerful abstracts painted in Lausanne, Switzerland between 1959 and 1961. Their colourful, textured surfaces reveal Davies’ knowledge of the latest developments in European avant-garde painting

At the heart of the exhibition is his internationally important archive detailing Davies’ contribution to 1960s counter culture and in particular the landmark Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS). DIAS took place in London in 1966 and featured performances and presentations by a radical group of artists and thinkers, including figures such as Gustav Metzger, Yoko Ono, Ralph Ortiz and the Viennese Actionists. Silent Explosion reveals Davies’ key role in this international network of artists.

Using archival material and unique film records, Silent Explosion pieces together an extraordinary series of performances and happenings staged by Davies in Edinburgh, London, Bristol and Swansea between 1966 and 1968. At this time Davies was pioneering the creative use of explosives in his art, using them as transformative moments within complex, theatrical events. A whole gallery within the exhibition will re-imagine Adam on St Agnes Eve – a thirty minute multi-media performance first staged by the artist in Swansea in 1968.

Silent Explosion is accompanied by a book on the artist, edited by Heike Roms, and published by Occasional Papers. The exhibition also features a full learning and events programme.

Nicholas Thornton, Head of Fine Art, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, said, “This is the largest solo show by a contemporary artist ever staged in Wales and Amgueddfa Cymru is thrilled to showcase the work of an artist who has been key to the visual arts in Wales and who has enjoyed an extraordinary career. 

“I hope visitors to the exhibition will enjoy the work of one of the most important and respected contemporary artists in Wales.”