Modern Art Oxford presents ‘Love Is Enough’ an exhibition drawing together works from public and private collections in the UK and USA, and juxtaposing the work of Pop legend Andy Warhol with the Victorian textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist William Morris. The show is curated by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller. Works on show include Warhol’s iconic prints of Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, as well as a signed photograph of Shirley Temple posted to a thirteen-year old Andy from the actress in 1941. Deller creates an exhibition of what would seem two disparate artists; juxtaposing a selection of Warhol’s silkscreens and archival material with designs, wallpapers, and tapestries by Morris, resulting in an illuminating show.
Jeremy Deller took up an invitation from Andy Warhol to hang out at the artist’s infamous Factory, at the tender age of 20. It was 1986 and Deller was an art history graduate, he had inadvertently crossed paths with Warhol at Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London, where he was approached by one of Warhol’s entouragel little knowing that for Warhol it may have been a pseudo-proposition of a different kind. With that Deller found himself in The Factory; at one point being groped by the famous Pop artist – that Deller admits to having had a rather ‘non PC’ response of being quite flattered. But the overall result of the visit would have a pivotal effect on Deller’s creative perspective, which nearly 30 years later has led to the artist curating an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in which he places Warhol alongside another of his heroes: William Morris.
The exhibition examines the prolific career of Warhol alongside the work of Morris, attempting to illuminate many points of connectivity within their work, and artistic practice. Deller examines these subjects, and he appears to know them well; highlighting relationships that might not have been apparent to the viewer before.
Upon entering the first room of four in the exhibition, which is called ‘Camelot’, Deller wishes to juxtapose works that will highlight both artists interest in aspects of mythology. Both had particular childhood obsessions; for Morris it was a direct interest in the medieval world that he carried to the end of his life – from a childhood riding in his own suit of armour on a Shetland pony. Warhol had – as Deller describes it – an obsession with his own ‘Camelot’: that of Hollywood.
The artist amassed a huge number of autographs in his childhood, this particular obsession Warhol would also carry through to his very final works – with Warhol’s rather disappointing portrait of Joan Collins on display – one of the artist’s final pieces – perhaps this is Deller’s unintentional proof that sometimes artists end up accidentally parodying their own accomplishments. But it is Warhol’s little known tapestry of Marilyn Munroe from 1968, that faces off against Morris’s much earlier Grail Tapestry. It is true that the intention of both artists work and careers differ in artistic intention, which would seem at odds with Deller’s intentions. The over-all importance of Warhol’s oeuvre lies not in the works themselves but in the prescient aspects of early reproduction. In this juxtaposition the Grail Tapestry is the opposite: a precious work of art, a masterpiece of singular intention and great beauty.
The juxtaposition of the works rely more upon the history of the artists practices; and does succeed in highlighting a surprising similarity: one of sincerity. Both Warhol and Morris were driven by their obsessions. Warhol’s creations stemmed from a far more personal place than the artists current reputation would have the viewer believe.
Deller has included a photograph from the Warhol archives of particular interest; a signed portrait of Shirley Temple from 1941, that a 13-year-old Warhol had requested from the youthful actress while his father was dying [the image reads ‘ to Andrew Warhol…’]. The photo has the interesting quality of being hand-coloured – thought to have been coloured by Warhol’s brother – the image is prescient of many later screenprint portraits of the famous; with the hyper-real quality of a disconnect between colour and image; the unreality of the Gods and Goddesses of Hollywood. The photo appears almost as an embryonic precursor to one of Warhol’s key practices. It is a rarely seen piece of primary evidence; as Deller stated to much amusement: In some respects almost all that you need to know about Warhol is that he had this photo as a child. These were not ironic works. Warhol believed in these people and looked up to them.
It is true that Deller’s placing of Warhol’s screenprints of race riots and the electric chair does not evidence the artist’s political sympathies as a statement against capital punishment or racism; but rather as the artist chronicling America, and indeed Americana. Whereby Morris was – in 1883 – in political league with the handful of early Socialists who made up the Democratic Federation; lecturing on issues such as the need to improve housing for workers, free and compulsory education, and the state ownership of banks and railways. Morris marched in rallies and demonstrations in support of the principles of “Revolutionary International Socialism”.
In 1885 Morris founded the publication ‘Commonweal’ as “The Official Journal of the Socialist League”; Warhol founded his magazine ‘Interview’ to focus his fascinations with celebrity. These aspects are indeed in opposition – it is only of interest that perhaps at times they are in direct opposition.
Yet both artists had impressive multi-layered careers; they were the true contemporaries and revolutionaries of their day; being perceived as very modern artists. Where Morris begins factory reproduction that is prescient of ever-increasing and varying reproduction in the 20th century; Warhol was, through his own use of ‘pre-Richard Prince’ appropriation and reproduction: really the first 21st century artist. An artist that in fact predicted the viral nature of the internet. The idea that the image should be everywhere and everything should be available. As Deller stated: “If Warhol was alive now he would own huge parts of the internet. It wouldn’t be ‘Google’ – it would be ‘Warhol’.”
Where Deller truly succeeds is not so much in a wholly workable juxtaposition between Warhol and Morris, but in reminding the viewer that Warhol was not the impassive, neutral observer of Americana that perhaps contemporary perspectives – post a reputation that has become tied up in auction prices – would lead us to believe. So in that fact alone, these two creative giants did indeed share a similarity – one which was barely obvious to the viewer, until the addition of one small yet poignant autograph.
Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol – Modern Art Oxford – until 8 March 2015
Words: Paul Black Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2014 photo Artlyst all rights reserved