Love Is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol – Jeremy Deller at Modern Art Oxford

30 October 2015 § Leave a comment

“Art isn’t about what you make but what you make happen.”

– Jeremy Deller

When artist, Jeremy Deller, was invited by Modern Art Oxford to examine two of his artistic heroes in an unconventional exhibition that draws surprising connections between these two iconic cultural figures, few could imagine the result. Upon viewing, it’s clear they have much more in common than we might suspect.

As a 20-year-old art history graduate, Deller had a chance encounter with Andy Warhol in London which led to an invitation to visit Warhol at the Factory in New York. Deller spent two weeks just hanging out watching Warhol work. “It felt like there were things happening all the time, but it was a relaxed environment with a purposefulness nonetheless. You never knew who was going to walk in. He surrounded himself with people – people with different skills who had ambition and creativity.” Deller describes William Morris as the “Warhol of his day” trying to revolutionise the alienating world of industrial work by the means of soft furnishings and floral wallpaper.

Warhol and Morris both established printmaking businesses, both envisaged art as not something done alone, but through collaboration. Both wanted art to be for the people, not a pampered few, and both men definitely made stuff happen.


The exhibition looks at common interests that both artists shared across different periods of history. Themes covered are: mass population of contemporary art, design process and manufacturing techniques, shared mythologies and obsessions, along with politics and publications. In one room there are Andy Warhol’s famed portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor alongside Willam Morris’s Holy Grail tapestries.


Warhol’s obsession with celebrity is apparent through the letters and autographs from famous actors that the artist collected as a child, including his most treasured possession: an autographed photograph from Shirley Temple. A range of vintage Interview magazines (the publication established by Warhol in 1969) is in perfect contrast to Morris’s interest in medieval legends and iconography shared with artists like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Both artists’ interest in the politics of their respective times is explored through screen prints by Warhol drawn from newspaper cuttings alongside Morris’s strident items, including his membership card for the socialist league as well as pamphlets and correspondence.


Repetition is a key theme; decorative patterns of Morris’s textiles, fabric swatches and wallpapers are contrasted with Warhol’s Flowers paintings and works on paper depicting soup cans and dollar bills.

What becomes increasingly apparent, is that neither artist was satisfied with just one discipline. They both wrote, published and, in their embrace of commercial and fine art, had a massive influence reaching far beyond the art world.


Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol run to 8 March 2015 at Modern Art Oxford.

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Barbara Kruger at Modern Art Oxford

27 July 2014 § Leave a comment

You have already seen Barbara Kruger’s work. Whether you realise it or not is a different matter, but the bold graphic design and powerful statements that typify her work have infiltrated the world of western consumer culture and have strongly influenced the world of media around us. You will recognise it on advertising hoardings, T Shirts, shopping bags and political banners.
Barbara Kruger Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am) 1987 - not in show

Barbara Kruger Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am) 1987 – not in show

Kruger’s instantly recognisable work combines bold lettering, colours and dramatic juxtapositions of text and image. Through ironic appropriation of specific slogans and imagery she deploys the visual strategies of mass communication in order to challenge the often manipulative logic at work in the language of advertising, television and other media and the role of Western consumerist culture.
Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford
Working since the 1980’s she is considered a vital element of the Pictures Generation – a group of artists including the likes of Richard Prince, John Baldessari, Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine that appropriated images from consumer culture questioning things like gender and identity.
Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

Kruger’s latest exhibition at Modern Art Oxford comprises different strands of her work – a site specific text installation, multi-channel video and her trademark collages. The first work that you encounter having ascended the stairs in to the spacious first floor gallery is untitled ‘architectural wrap’ that impressively covers the covers the entire lofty space.

Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

Over the floor variety of black and white words list supposed categories of people as varied as posers, fatuous fools or survivors. One might be happy to be considered grouped with intellectuals and professors as well as perhaps with doers and winners but to be labelled within sycophants, fatuous fools, jerks or airheads however may not be quite so desirable.

Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

Here then is a potted selection of labels that we, consciously and unconsciously attach to those around us and Kruger cleverly forces us to consider our complicity in categorising not just ourselves but those around us. On the walls in words up to thirty feet high we are meanwhile invited to ponder statements like Be Here Now, Remember Me or Is That All That There Is

Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

In the middle gallery a selection of her 1980’s pasted collages is presented – works that evolved from her work as a Conde Nast designer. Including Talk Is Cheap and You Kill Time these modest black and white pieces set the template for iconic future works like I Shop Therefore I Am or Your Body Is A Battleground.

Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

Finally, Kruger’s video Twelve, 2004 comments on the absurdities of human interaction. Members of staged four-way interactions are projected on to the four walls of the gallery surrounding us. Whilst we see the expressions of the actors and hear their words, their ‘real’ thoughts are presented in written form as a news-channel style ticker-tape across the bottom of the screen challenging any cohesive narrative.

Barbara Kruger is at Modern Art Oxford until 31 August 2014

jean-luc moulene, new works at thomas dane

29 November 2012 § Leave a comment

Following on from his well-received solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford – his first UK museum exhibition – Jean-Luc Moulene has taken over both of Thomas Dane‘s Mayfair galleries.

This is an artist who has made his career from being deliberately – or wilfully one might say – different. Each work, and body of work, is characterised by the absence of a unifying aesthetic. Her we variously have blown glass, photography, steel sculpture, mirrors, fabric and biro ink on canvas.

Strangely it works a lot better here than at MAO where he struggled to fill the open space. Its still hit and miss – bits of coloured fabric draped around corners adjacent to mirrors to ‘reconfigure the space’ look plain silly, but the knot theme taken through the glass Blown Knots, the steel and bronze Knot2 and the photographic knots of Figure (tree) works well.

An interesting show but I could have done without a condescending gallery manager telling us, whilst quoting prices in the mid tens of thousands, that they were keeping prices low ‘just to get it out there’. Yeah right!

At Thomas Dane until 26 January 2012

jean-luc moulene at modern art oxford

30 September 2012 § 2 Comments

Following the tragic suicide of Mike Stanley – the dynamic and inspirational director of Modern Art Oxford – I felt that I had to make the quick trip to Oxford for the preview of this, his last exhibition.

On this years Turner Prize committee the 37 year old MAO director was considered to be one of an exciting new breed of adventurous curators, pushing boundaries and not scared of being radical.

The exhibition by Jean-Luc  Moulene is typically adventurous. This is an artist with a low public profile in the UK (and probably most places?) but nevertheless well-regarded within the art world. His work encompasses photography, object-making, printing, painting and sketching whilst making complex theoretical examination of the relationship between image and object.

The exhibition looks at some of his work from the last twenty years together with pieces specifically made for the show. It commences in the Upper Galleries of the MAO spaces with a series of closely spaced ‘objects’ (he doesn’t like the connotations of the word ‘sculpture’) surrounded by photographs, collages and drawings. The objects are nondescript bronze and glass ‘knots’ which act as ‘cohesive exploration of the knot as a potential tool for understanding’. 

If you did not know what you were in for before arriving you are therefore thrown in at the deep end. ‘The bronze knots are expired whilst the glass knots are inspired’ Moulene states. Aha – obviously! Got it now? No, me neither.

In another work Rich 2010 Moulene places a bottle of water beside a fire. It reacts to the uneveness of the floor and heat of the fire – constantly changing. A diamond on the top suggests a decanter and questions materiality and perceptions of value. Sorry to be a philistine, but I don’t want to read an essay before looking at an artwork.

More interesting are his huge monochromes in the next, darkened, John Piper Gallery. Made from BIC pen ink applied with a palette knife the colour is amazingly vibrant and deep and reflects the blue, black, red and green colours of standard biros. Across the end wall is The Three Graces 2012 – a film work or three nude sisters atop a windy hilltop near Oxford that nicely references the familiar classical subject. Apologies for the absence of photos, but none allowed at the gallery.

This is the (French?) thinking mans artist and whilst a visit to the exhibition may prove moderately engaging to the casual visitor it really requires a background of art theory and a more than passing knowledge of the French philosophers to really enjoy it and for anyone to say that they really understand what Moulene is really up to with these works.

Please do go, but either book now for the talk on 25th October – where Moulene talks with Chris Dercon – or read as much as you can about Moulene before you go!

Oh yes, and take a minute to enjoy a coffee on the Richard Woods commissioned furniture in the cafe.

Modern Art Oxford until 25 November 2012



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