The name Jeremy Deller conjures up all manner of conflicting images in my mind’s eye; of frivolous inflatable sculptures and brass bands playing acid house; of turbulent clashes between miners and police and the rusted bodies of motor vehicles. He’s got a real knack for uniting ideas that feel inherently opposite. So his latest show at Modern Art Oxford shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise in its bringing together of two figures who seem very much at odds with each other.
Love Is Enough explores the conceptual, biographical and methodological similarities between two contemporary giants of the art world, William Morris and Andy Warhol. Though they lived over a century apart and in entirely different continents it seems there are numerous parallels between the two men.
The first comes in childhood, when both were laid up in bed with prolonged bouts of illness, Morris drawing images of Medieval knights and developing a lifelong obsession with that period of history and Warhol writing to Hollywood stars in search of autographed photographs to add to his collection. Strangely these early interests in many ways defined the creative output of both men during their lifetimes, seeding ideas they’d continue to explore as adult artists.
Later on it’s the means of production and mechanical innovation that unite Morris and Warhol; their reliance on printing and weaving as a means of replicating original works for the masses. There’s shared interests in socialism and an industrialisation of the creative process, but most of all it’s the ability to create communities around making work that’s the most obvious parallel between them – Morris with his factories and Warhol with The Factory.
Although unexpected, the Deller-curated show makes complete sense in its curation, displaying works chronologically and side-by-side to accentuate the links between the artists. Sometimes Warhol prints are placed directly on top of Morris wallpapers and there’s an entire room at the end dedicated to patterned works of both men – a luxurious arrangement of floral prints detailed from conception to final realisation – the amalgamation of which forms the colourful identity of the show.
In someone else’s hands Love Is Enough could have been quite a stiff exhibition – a visual thesis on one curator’s theories – but Deller’s sense of excitement and fun comes to bear on everything on display, so even a vast religious tapestry completed towards the end of Morris’ life feels cheeky and exciting placed directly opposite one of Warhol’s woven Marilyn Monroes. So I’d urge you out to Oxford to enjoy one of the best shows I’ve seen outside (and maybe in) London in a long time.
Love Is Enough runs at Modern Art Oxford until 8 March 2015.