Guy Brett, a curator and critic associated with London’s pioneering Signals gallery of the 1960s, has died at 78. Kurimanzutto gallery, which in collaboration with Thomas Dane Gallery hosted an exhibition devoted to Signals in 2018, announced Brett’s passing on Instagram, but did not specify a cause of death.
Throughout his career, Brett, who was born in 1942, widened art history’s Eurocentric purview to include figures from Latin America and Asia who had been overlooked by his colleagues. As critic for the Times of London and many other outlets, including Art in America, for whom he addressed the art of Rasheed Araeen in 1998, Brett focused on those whose work might not otherwise fit chronologies and narratives that had been historically centered in the discipline.
“When I started writing on art all eyes were on America and many British artists started praising qualities like ‘toughness’ which they felt they saw in the work of American artists,” he told the magazine Sanat Dunyamiz in 2006. “But being into, for example, kinetic art meant that you would not give America priority since kinetic work was coming from all over the world. It was fascinating to observe nuances of difference as artists from different cultures embraced the common proposition of an art of change and transformation, of matter and energy.”
In 1964, with curator Paul Keeler and artists Gustav Metzger, David Medalla, and Marcello Salvadori, Brett cofounded Signals, which became a hotbed for avant-garde activity in London. (Medalla died at age 78 in December 2020.) The artists shown at the gallery are ones who have come to be considered the most famous ones of the era: Lygia Clark, Mira Schendel, Hélio Oiticica, Jesús Rafael Soto, Takis, and many more. But, when the gallery was exhibiting these artists, they were not well known in North America or Europe.
Signals Newsbulletin, a recurring publication featuring works by the artists along with other content, was essential in disseminating the gallery’s offerings far and wide. Although Signals closed in 1967, it is now viewed as one of the most important London galleries ever opened.
During and after his time at Signals, Brett devoted himself to many of the artists who worked with the gallery. He also wrote various books, including Kinetic Art: The Language of Movement (1968) and a monograph devoted to Medalla. He also curated “In Motion,” a show of kinetic art, for the Arts Council of England in 1966 and an Oiticica survey for the Whitechapel Gallery in 1969, and he served as a lecturer at London’s Goldsmiths University between 1979 and 1980.
Among Brett’s most celebrated exhibitions was “Force Fields: Phases of the Kinetic,” a 2000 exhibition presented at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and the Hayward Gallery in London that surveyed the evolution of kinetic art. With works included by Takis, Pol Bury, Gego, Hans Haacke, Jean Tinguely, and many more, the show drew widespread acclaim. In his review for Artforum, Yve Alain-Bois wrote, “Brett visibly loves the objects he has unearthed.”