Living arts

Title Living arts
Location London
Publisher The Institute of Contemporary Art in collaboration with Tillotsons (Bolton) Ltd
Periodicity 3 issues
URL Living Arts Worldcat
Published Since 1963-1964
Indexed Holdings 1963-1964


The Library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (Queens)

Periodical's Overview

Living arts is a documentary magazine, planned to complement the activities of The Institute of Contemporary Arts, and to develop its own audience for original work and the examination of ideas. It will cover all the arts, especially the visual arts and architecture, and will also aim to publish creative work in the fields of literature, music, philosophy and science.

The need for a full-scale English art review has been obvious for many years, and in founding Living arts the editors are conscious of what might be done in ideal circumstances, with the time, thought, energy and capital. However, we have chosen as our immediate object the documenting of some of the vital activity of our own time. The ‘fifties have passed, and we remember the ferment of intellectual exchange and experiment that took place in and around the ICA; yet how little except fugitive pieces survives to fix the activity of those years in print; a generation engrossed in the processes of communication will be found in retrospect to have committed only a fraction of its aims, arguments, basic ideas and sources to the record. The effort to start Living arts will have been justified if something of the live art, the raw thinking and the studio talk of the following period, however tangential, survives in its pages.

There will be three issues of the magazine in the first year.”[1]


“Le Corbusier damned the tight-packed apartments of 19th century Paris, with their orderly fronts, and their backs a chaos of tangled roofs, chimneys and disordered light-wells. Today this chaos is seen as a virtue, and the idea of an architecture of straight back and sides is to be avoided. We have begun to cherish disorder, particularly when it carries with it a suggestion of life and energy...”[2]


“…we must recognize that metro-violence exists, but not that it is the inevitable concomitant of urban life. The problem is how to handle this rawness, in the spirit of Fromm’s aphorism that ‘delinquent actions represent unused creativity.’ The difficult ideal is containment without rigid constraint, allowing for the release of the volatile energies of man within the mechanism of society, without distorting the balance of environment, mobility, work, recreation, etc. And this mammoth job is one for intelligence in planning, design and legislation - it is itself an urgent creative task, a humanistic one.”[3]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Archigram (group)
  • Architecture, Baroque - England
  • Architecture and cities
  • Artists - interviews
  • Artists’ writings
  • Black Orpheus - poetry
  • Cities and towns - poetry
  • Concrete sculpture
  • Exhibitions - design
  • Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
  • Musician’s writings
  • New York School of Art
  • Popular culture - England - 20th century
  • Primitivism in art
  • Signs and signboards
  • Violence in art
  • Visionary architecture - design and plans


17-18 Dover Street, Piccadilly, the address where London’s Institute of Contemporary Art officially opened its doors on December 12th, 1950.

As an institution the ICA had existed as a floating entity since 1946; supported by the recently created Arts Council of Great Britain, and spearheaded among others by Sir Roland Penrose and Herbert Read, ICA’s initial exhibitions and programs served as an introduction to Britain of European early modernist avant-gardes and ideas. Its aims, to shatter what was perceived as a stale academicism emanating from the Royal Academy and a nationalistic provincialism,[4] aims fueled by the seismic impact of the Second World War on Britain’s self confidence and its waning role as an Empire, its coming to terms with the emergence of a new one, the United States of America.

This initial modernist project shifted when the Institute acquired its physical premises, which gathered around its programs and members' room (i.e. bar) a younger generation of artists, architects and critics that embraced a divergent modernism than the one espoused by Penrose and Read; a popular modernism, if you will, is what was being tested around this loose group of people that became the Independent Group (IG), all of them from a different class background than the majority of the ICA’s initiators. An aesthetics of plenty, for all.

We quote:

“IG “membership” was an informal matter, no dependable records listing those who attended meetings seem to have survived. Participation was fluid, with a year-and-a-half hiatus between the first set of meetings in 1952-53 and the second in 1954-55. […] [O]ur working idea of IG membership was largely developed from interviews with surviving ex-members, each of whom would suggest a slightly different reconstruction of the group, tending either toward an exclusive or inclusive definition. Although there will never be an agreed-upon inclusive “membership list,” our working list of the IG contained the following names: the critics Lawrence Alloway and Reyner Banham; publication designer and critic Toni del Renzo; musician Frank Cordell; artists Magda Cordell, Richard Hamilton, Nigel Henderson, John McHale, Eduardo Paolozzi, and William Turnbull; architects Geoffrey Holroyd, Alison and Peter Smithson, James Stirling, and Colin St. John.”[5]

This brief historical sketch[6]is provided in order to situate 1963’s Living arts, and to place us in a context from which we can understand the magazine’s editorial statement that “little except fugitive pieces survives to fix the activity of those years in print;”[7]Living arts documentary aims were directed to capture what had taken place during the 1950s at the ICA as well as ICA's early 1960s activities. As no one could agree on what had taken place during the 1950s, this desire to fix a history was, according to Alison Smithson, “bound to be thwarted by the ‘Rashomon factor’;”[8] it is precisely these vagaries of memory and history formation what makes Living arts a relevant document for anyone interested in learning about how “the idea of” the Independent Group gets constructed. For example, the Smithsons (Peter and Alison) were not featured in Living Arts, but Alloway, Banham, Hamilton, Paolozzi and Turnbull were.

The reasons for these absences could be varied, as the ‘looseness’ of the IG had already developed into independent paths for each of its ‘members,’ but what transpires through the pages of the 3 issues of Living arts is a willful attempt to fix its spirit into print, and to present how that spirit was being articulated and transmuted in 1963.

Throughout the squarely-shaped pages of the journal, we find essays by Alloway and Banham, both of them yet to definitively migrate to the United States, which would affect how they perceived of a mythically mediated consumer culture. We also find work by Richard Hamilton, Paolozzi and Turnbull; other texts and articles unrelated to the IG were also published, among them Cornelius Cardew’s “Autumn ’60 for orchestra,’ David Sylvester’s interviews with American modernists like Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb, or David Smith, and an early text from Gillo Dorfles about Baroque arquitecture in England. All of this interspersed with poetry, urban photographs, and an interesting document of a 1963 event at the ICA on African culture, featuring the poet Léopold Sédar Senghor and others on Black Orpheus.

Of special interest is Living arts’ second issue, as it includes a section dedicated to the ICA’s exhibition Living city; functioning as its catalogue, one can observe how the IG and the ICA ferment of the 1950s materializes in a new, and yet again, divergent wave of understanding about the city and architecture’s role in a consumer society; in this case, that of Archigram’s. With texts and images by Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, Ron Herron, Warren Chalk, Michael Webb and David Greene, and a design and exhibition layout that will become their signature style, this exhibition was “concerned with city experience; not the theory or technicalities of town planning, but the vision of the city as an environment conditioning our emotions;”[9]the exhibition and the publication became a template imitated by curators and architects for exhibitions dealing with aspects of art and the urban condition, a staple of the international art exhibitions circuit during the late 1990s and 2000s.[10] Antecedents, or as Archigram names it in 1963, a Total exhibition structure.

A short-lived endeavor, Living arts is nonetheless an invaluable document to understand the erratic processes of historicization, as well as a dive in time to a London coming out of the grey postwar years to a colorful society of plenty, about to be transformed for ever by the wind of unanticipated history that had arrived to its shores with the Empire Windrush.

Curiously enough, 17-18 Dover Street, Piccadilly was the former residence of Horatio Nelson.

To peruse the indexed contents of Living arts, please log into the database.


[1]"[Living arts]," Living arts (London), no. 1 (1963) : 1.

[2]"[Living city, the architectural feature in this issue of Living arts…]," Living arts (London), no. 2 (1963) : 1.

[3]"[‘Violence in society, nature and the arts’ is the theme of the current ICA season of lectures, films and demonstrations...]," Living arts (London), no. 3 (1964) : 3.

[4]In 1951, the Festival of Britain provides a case study: “When the Festival of Britain opened in May, it confirmed the worst suspicions of the ICA’s “Young Turks.” It seemed that the cultural establishment had stumbled into the postwar world with its eyes fixed on a rearview-mirror and was championing the Contemporary Style, a curiously eclectic and bizarre interpretation of modernism which was somewhere between thirties Deco, Joan Miró, and scientific models of molecular structure.” Graham Whitham. “Chronology: 1951.” In: The Independent Group: postwar Britain and the aesthetics of plenty. Ed. by David Robbins. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990, p. 16.

[5]Jacquelynn Baas. “Introduction.” In: The Independent Group: postwar Britain and the aesthetics of plenty. Ed. by David Robbins. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990, p. 8.

[6]For this sketch, we have relied on the exhibition catalogue, The Independent Group: postwar Britain and the aesthetics of plenty, as well as on Anne Massey’s insightful The Independent Group: modernism and mass culture in Britain, 1945-59. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.

[7]Aware that the editors might be referring to IG's events taking place at the ICA, we believe that Living arts’ editorial assertion could be nuanced; published materials and documents existed mapping the activities of the Independent Group members during the 1950s; for example, the journal October dedicated a section of its New Brutalism issue to materials published by an array of Independent Group members in British publications; see October (New York), no. 136 (Spring 2011); also, Alison and Peter Smithson proved to be good documenters of all their activities; for an example, see The emergence of Team 10 out of C.I.A.M. Compiled by Alison Smithson. London: Architectural Association, 1982.

[8]Baas, p. 9.

[9]"[Living city, the architectural feature in this issue of Living arts…]," Living arts (London), no. 2 (1963) : 1.

[10]One example would be Cities on the move: urban chaos and global change, an exhibition designed by Rem Koolhaas, 1999.