Unlimited – Art for Everyone in the 1960s – Exhibition by The Holburne Museum at The Assembly Rooms, Bath, 24 April-4 June 2023

Unlimited – Art for Everyone in the 1960s is an exhibition by The Holburne Museum at The Assembly Rooms Bath and is running from 24 April to 4 June 2023. The exhibition tells the story of the company Unlimited which was founded by inventor and entrepreneur Jeremy Fry in 1967. The aim of the company was to mass-produce works by major contemporary artists such as Takis (Panayiotis Vassilakis), Kenneth Martin, Michael McKinnon and Susan Tebby. Entrance to the exhibition is free.

Jeremy Fry, a member of the wealthy family who produced the famous Fry’s chocolate, had strong connections with the Bath-Bristol area and Unlimited was founded in 1966 with its office at Widcombe Manor. Unlimited, which was managed by Richard Aniss, aimed to produce unlimited editions of works of art, therefore making the purchase of art more accessible. This creative, even revolutionary idea, was to eventually prove the company’s downfall, as in March 1969 Customs & Excise decided that the company’s products, not being limited editions, were subject to Purchase Tax. The extra tax burden would have increased prices by 55% and in effect made it impossible for the company to continue. Unlimited therefore had quite a short life, from its founding in 1966 to its final exhibition in 1970. This exhibition tells, probably for the first time or the first time in a long time, the story of Unlimited. There are exhibits by artists that Unlimited worked with and a documentary video about the company, made in the 1970s, runs on a loop.

Not only does the exhibition give people the opportunity to learn about Unlimited but there is the bonus of being able to visit Bath’s famous Assembly Rooms during a period when the building is being refurbished. The Assembly Rooms is owned by The National Trust. The building will not be open again for several years but in the meantime, before it reopens to provide a Georgian experience, it is being used for exhibitions. The current exhibition was initially due to take place at Bath University but it was good decision to move it to The Assembly Rooms: this is a site much more accessible to the public and the exhibition has on some days attracted hundreds of visitors. The modernist works on display fit into their spacious Georgian setting surprisingly well.

The excellent catalogue that goes with the exhibition gives detailed information about all the art and artists. The information in this review is taken from the catalogue.

Mo McDermott

Mo McDermott’s sculptures of often exotic plants are made from fretwork plywood and his first work for Unlimited was a 44-inch tall group of trees which was available fir the first time in September 1969 at a cost of £5.00. The way the sculptures slotted into a wooden base made different arrangements possible.

McDermott produced works for for Barny Broadbent Design in London’s Holland Park as well as for Unlimited.

Lygia Clark

Lygia Clark made 3 works for Unlimited, titled Animal 1, 2 and 3. These sculptures were similar to a series of sculptures called bichos (Portuguese for creatures) first exhibited in 1965. Each work consists of aluminium sheets joined by hinges, enabling the viewer to reconfigure the sheets.

Takis

Takis is the pseudonym of Panayiotis Vassilakis (1925-2019).Takis was a native of Athens and moved to Paris in 1954, then lived and worked mainly in London after 1966. He is now regarded as a significant kinetic artist. Takis began experimenting with kinetic art in 1954 and the first Signals were produced in that year. The versions by Unlimited were produced in the company’s first year, 1966. Takis is notable for his use of salvaged materials and Signals uses salvaged lights mounted on the top of very thin stands. The stands are made so that they quiver.

Mary Martin

Mary Martin was born in Folkestone in 1907 and lived and trained at Goldsmith’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Rotation MM1 is made from stainless steel and consists of identical units placed on a base. Martin had some interesting thoughts on the duplication of works of art, which are quoted in the exhibition catalogue.

Works of art are not memories…They are physical, material presences meant to be handled, gazed upon and lived with. To possess them, both privately and publicly, is a primitive human urge: food for the mind and spirit.

The idea of multiplication is implicit in construction. It can be copied identically in workshop conditions under the artist’s supervision without losing any of its attributes. Mass production is geared to the fact of supply and demand. In the case of works whose content is based on the use of identical units, designed not readymade, the divorce from mass production is ridiculous for me.

Accurate replication of such units requires a capital outlay…thus putting the multiple on a part with books, films and LP records. A sponsor is needed as well as a team.

The unique object is not invalidated by the multiple. They can exist side by side. The same problems occur in music. The dissemination of ideas, which is what is really at stake, is a step towards the perception of quality, which is a test of a culture. Quality through quantity.

Mary Martin, 1968, quoted in Unlimited Art for Everyone in the 1960s exhibition catalogue.

Michael McKinnon

Michael McKinnon is an Australian artist who moved to London in 1965. He produced Tumbledisc TD1 TD2 and TD3 for Unlimited. These works are designed to be hung on walls. A small silent motor produces movement.

Tumbledisc by Michael McKinnon

and see the Tumbledisc move…

Tumbledisc by Michael McKinnon

A collage of information about Unlimited and its artists

The exhibition raises an interesting question. If it is possible to produce unlimited editions of a work, why produce a limited edition? The artists who worked with Unlimited must have to a large extent agreed with the thoughts of Mary Martin about the advantages of mass production of works of art. Unlimited was in the end not a commercial success, but the story of the company is a fascinating one and presented very successfully in this exhibition.

Barry Mitchell

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