Ben Uri Gallery and Museum will celebrate its centenary year with the exhibition ‘Out of Chaos; Ben Uri: 100 Years in London’, exploring one hundred years of émigré history through its prolific art collection, looking to forge future conversations about the relationship between immigration and art.

Ben Uri Gallery and Museum is delighted to announce its coming centenary exhibition, opening in July 2015 in the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing in association with the Cultural Institute at King’s College London. A registered charity and museum, Ben Uri began as a London-based art society founded in Whitechapel’s ghetto in 1915 and is the oldest Jewish cultural organisation in the UK. This exhibition will use its celebrated collection to tell the stories of the universal social and political upheavals faced by an émigré community, in this case Jewish, whilst reflecting on the wider émigré experiences of London. Addressing key issues of ‘identity’ and ‘belonging’, the exhibition will harness the invaluable history of Ben Uri’s collection and artists to expand conversations about immigration, creativity and citizenship, constant features of today’s political debate.

The Centenary Exhibition

Amassed over one hundred years of exhibiting and supporting Jewish émigré artists, Ben Uri’s 1,300-strong art collection is recognised worldwide as offering important works from artists living and working in London, as well as internationally. Currently based in a small and temporary space in St. John’s Wood, Ben Uri’s collection spends most of its time in storage. ‘Out of Chaos’ will showcase works usually hidden from view, illustrating the experience through artists who worked in London, including David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein, Mark Gertler, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, alongside their international contemporaries that Ben Uri has in recent years sought to champion, including Marc Chagall, Chaïm Soutine and Georg Grosz. The last room in the exhibition will feature work from contemporary artists, such as Dorothy Bohm, David Breuer-Weil and the Russian-born American conceptualist partnership Komar + Melamid, outlining the future of the Ben Uri collection.

Alongside such seminal works, the exhibition will also feature lesser-known, but no less historically important, artists, accompanied by newly-uncovered archival material, which has never previously been displayed. The materials tell tales of Ben Uri’s colourful history: the venues that dotted across London, including a 32-year-stint in Soho; the society’s journey of cultural exchange, holding talks on Shakespeare and Dickens; and the great influence of émigré artists on the teaching and character of London’s art schools. Visitors will be encouraged to share their own stories under the inclusive Ben Uri banner of ‘Art, Identity and Migration’, led by a variety of innovative and interactive digital displays. Throughout the exhibition, volunteers will be on hand to help guide through and illuminate exhibition content, alongside enhanced online access to the entire Ben Uri collection which will be available to the public for the first time.

Engaging the Community

Augmented by a broad community engagement programme, Ben Uri will work in academic partnership with King’s College London, together with three community partners: SHAK (South Hampstead and Kilburn Community Association); Oxford House (Bethnal Green); and Paddington Arts (Westbourne Park). There will be an extensive learning programme of events and workshops, supported by Ben Uri’s award-winning learning department, led by the pioneering initiative “Use our story to understand your story”, which will be available online prior to the exhibition.

The Future

Currently based in a small temporary gallery in St. John’s Wood, the majority of Ben Uri’s collection and archive remains frustratingly inaccessible to the public, which is something the gallery’s aspirations beyond this exhibition aim to change. Ben Uri is currently looking for and fundraising towards a central London space to house its extensive collection. As well as making the collection permanently available to the public, the move will also complete Ben Uri’s evolution into the Museum of Art, Identity and Migration, examining the capital’s diversity in modern times. The museum would be the first of its kind in London, creating an international centre of scholarship and learning focused on the themes of identity and migration, underpinned by Ben Uri’s history and collection. The new museum will be a first in many distinctive ways, not least by sharing its space with other émigré communities, using the joint exhibition programme to tell their stories of journeying to and living in London through the exhibition of their art.

"Ben Uri is a 100 year-young art museum, founded by émigré Jews in Whitechapel in July 1915. Our heritage is the source and inspiration for our strategy of a large encompassing Museum of Art, Identity and Migration celebrating the contribution of all immigrant communities to the modern and contemporary cultural landscape of London. We are hugely appreciative of the significant support from the HLF in facilitating this important testimony to the scale and depth of contribution that Jewish and other immigrant communities add to the rich cultural mosaic of our country and great capital city." - David Glasser, Executive Chair of Ben Uri