Lawrence Alloway


Lawrence Alloway brought an incisive, critical perspective to the Independent Group when he joined the meetings in early 1955 as convenor with John McHale. The second session concentrated on mass culture, industrial design, cybernetics and fine art. As an art critic, Alloway had admired the work of Paolozzi and William Turnbull since the early 1950s, writing a glowing review of their work for Art News in the summer of 1953. Alloway also curated exhibitions, including Collages and Objects at the ICA in late 1954, which included the first representation of a transistor in British art. Alloway shared the same type of humble background as Banham and Hamilton, as the son of a bookseller he was largely educated at home due to childhood illness. He relished the popular culture of his early years, notably science-fiction comics and films. Alloway continued to be an avid fan of Hollywood film throughout his lifetime, working as a groundbreaking film critic for the British Movie magazine, and publishing Violent America: the Movies 1946–64 in 1971, which accompanied a screening of 35 films at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Alloway contributed an introduction entitled ‘Design as a Human Activity’ to the This is Tomorrow catalogue, which encapsulated the Independent Group’s approach:

‘In This is Tomorrow the visitor is exposed to space effects, play with signs, a wide range of materials and structures, which, taken together, make of art and architecture a many-chanelled activity, as factual and far from ideal standards as the street outside.’ (1956:11)

He also contributed to Group 12’s environment with Toni del Renzio and John Holroyd, consisting of various tackboards which the visitor could alter. Alloway was employed by the ICA as Assistant Director in July 1955, making a contribution to the public series of lectures and the exhibition programme. In 1958 he travelled around America on a State Department Grant and in 1961 Alloway moved to New York, to teach at Bennington College before becoming a curator at the Guggenheim Museum. He then supported the development of American Pop Art and, in the 1970s and 1980s, feminist art, due to his wife Sylvia Sleigh’s involvement. His incisive, critical writing on architecture, art and film continued to reflect Independent Group concerns throughout his lifetime.

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