Modern Art Oxford at 50
Louise Lawler, Still Life (candle) (traced), 2003 / 2013. Printed vinyl mounted to wall, 304 x 251 cm
A matte grey colour, popular amongst art schools as floor paint, saturates the Victorian brick-work of Modern Art Oxford’s Pembroke Street façade. The impact of its ugly exterior, a hybrid of a Shoreditch bistro and an Urban Outfitters, is softened by the familiarity of its “contemporary art institute” interior. Its clean white walls, a fantastically average café and a charming (expensive) shop indiscreetly positioned by the exit, reassures us of the building’s elevated societal status… Right?
Anyway, Modern Art Oxford has had its 50th anniversary this year. To celebrate its cultural conversion from the Victorian brewery that it once was in the 60s to the international gallery that exists today, a commemorative medley of exhibitions has been staged. A year-long feat that gave viewers access to the installation processes of each exhibition. An interesting dynamic that made visible the transition from previous shows to new ones.
The last instalment in the series, ‘The Vanished Reality’, presents an extensive mixture (or ‘kaleidoscope’) of artworks from varying periods since the 1960s. Time-honoured artists such as Darcy Lange, Yoko Ono, Hans Haacke, Louise Lawler and Marcel Broodthaers are paired alongside relatively new artists, like Hardeep Pandhal and, most exciting of all, Katja Novitskova.
Novitskova’s ‘Approximations’ series is displayed in the Project Space. Three digital prints, sculptural in their upright and floor-based occupation of the area, are positioned around the centre of the small room. The prints depict enlarged photographs of exotic animals (a flamingo, a chameleon and two Emperor penguins this time). These colourful and friendly-faced animals are as foreign to British shores as they are to the context of the gallery space. Their novel and totally surreal inhabitation of this context provides an irresistible diversion from the conceptual works on the floor above. It must also be said that their playful aesthetic will, no doubt, tempt Instagram aficionados.
Louise Lawler’s contribution, ‘No Drones’, also warrants a special mention. Ten vinyl prints are mounted onto the walls of the Piper Gallery space. The collection exists as a reconfiguration of her own photographic work, from as early as 1984. By re-contextualising imagery, which was originally produced in a different cultural climate, we are forced to compare the social and political transformation that the work has undergone. Through a mode of appropriation, using her own work as a readymade, Lawler disrupts the lineage of historical narratives. Such contextual dependent conversations become the overriding theme of ‘Vanished Reality’.
Major birthday celebrations of this sort would be rather incomplete without an element of nostalgia weaving its way to the forefront of the experience. Nostalgia is not, however, the only sentiment. The inclusion of contemporary artists offers the spectator an opportunity to foretaste the exciting direction Modern Art Oxford is taking.
All in all, a celebration worth remembering.
Katja Novitskova, Approximations Mars I, 2014/2016. Digital print on aluminium, cut-out display, gravel, stones, 140 x 240 cm.