The title of this exhibition is taken from a passage in World Within World, the autobiography (published in 1951) of the English poet and critic Stephen Spender. He was referring to what he and many others at the beginning of the 1930s regarded as a portentous and anxious-making domestic and international situation. Every generation, it seems, rediscovers this sense of unease. In recent years, the rise of fundamentalism has been accompanied by a politics of paranoia. Surveillance, offence taken and demands for atonement abound; new technologies have seemed to corrode, simultaneously, the culture they once revolutionised. Caught in a certain light, the present can resemble science fiction, while reprising Biblical imagery. “…hounded by external events…” has been conceived within the mood of such perceptions.
While addressing a world that can seem to be passing through the lingering twilight of postmodernism, the exhibition has been guided by Modernist and nineteenth century ideas about art, arts criticism and the role of the artist. Oscar Wilde’s decree, for example, that it is not the critic’s task to explain the mysteries of art but to deepen them, has been taken to heart.