Downsizing presents problems for most home-movers, but for avid contemporary art collectors Eric and Jean Cass it presented a unique challenge. With an art collection worth £4 million comprised of 365 pieces, they looked to regional museums across the UK to rehouse their possessions.
This immensely substantial and significant contribution has helped regional museums and galleries build their collections and has taken contemporary art beyond London's threshold. The collection, amassed over 40 years, is now divided between seven museums: the Gallery of Modern Art (Glasgow), Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery, National Museum of Wales (Cardiff), Scottish Gallery of Modern Art (Edinburgh), The Royal Pavilion Brighton and Wolverhampton Gallery. Before all this lovely art work is squirreled off to the regions, six of these pieces have been loaned by Wolverhampton Gallery to the Contemporary Art Society near Old Street.
In this instant it is worth acknowledging the collector as well as the artists. Too often we forget that many of the works in our museums and galleries were gifted to the public by collectors. Without them, such substantial collections can be broken up and sold overseas. Eric Cass's indulgence and passion for collecting contemporary art was afforded him when he made his fortune in electronics by designing the infamous 'bleep' that accompanies many electronic products. This was such a significant aspect of his life he even named his architecturally-designed Surry modernist family home 'Bleep'. However, he soon discovered that furnishing such a home presented its difficulties. Fortunately, with his wife Jean's help, they frequently travelled to Europe and collected pieces that formed the backdrop to their daily lives for 40 years.
Two of the most eye-catching pieces displayed at the Contemporary Art Society's gallery are by Hungarian Victor Varsarely, AXO-99 (1987), and Argentinian Julio Le Parc's Longue March (1976). Using all the colours of the rainbow, these pieces encapsulate Pop Art. Varsarely (1906–1997) initially began medical training in Budapest in 1925 but abandoned that to study academic painting at the Podolini-Volkmann Academy. After several years working in graphics he moved to Paris in 1930. Although his development was interrupted by World War II, in the 1960s and 1970s his work began to have a great influence on popular culture, as pieces of his work became incorporated and adapted by architects and designers. Considered the father of Op-Art, Varsarely's work attempts to represent the 3D object in a 2D form using simple forms and colours. AXO-99 illustrates this wonderfully and relates back to Varsarely's work as a graphic designer visually and by title. Another major figure in modern art, Le Parc was directly inspired by Varsarely's work, which he saw upon a visit to Paris. His influence can be clearly seen in Lonque March (1976), in particular in Le Parc's full use of the colour spectrum.
It is reassuring that such lovely pieces did not spend their lives in a soulless gallery or museum, but were enjoyed every day by the Cass family. Perhaps we should be inspired by Eric and Jean Cass to brighten up our own homes with more colourful pieces of art. This would be a welcome relief to the monotonous walls of magnolia that feature as such a common part of our homes these days. Overall this is a well put-together exhibition – it's just a shame there isn't more on display. However, a visit to the Contemporary Art Society is worthwhile, as they also have a permanent exhibition and a substantial library suitable for researchers and art enthusiasts.