I really like the Modern Art Oxford. It is an institution that without fail or fanfare delivers engaging exhibition programming for as long as I cared. And, just like a cluster of regional museums recently, they are celebrating their 50th year – yes, another one, but none the less it is always interesting to engage in the history of an institution and the artists that make up its foundations. The ‘Indivisible Present’ is the first exhibition of ‘KALEIDOSCOPE’ - a celebratory year-long programme of exhibitions that sees the return of iconic works that have been displayed in the past and new commissions by the current generation’s most exciting creators.
Let’s kick things off with my personal favourite from the programme - Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price’s inclusion ‘Sleep’ (2013). Price already has strong ties with the city of Oxford, which, given the programming of the gallery in general is something they are keen to maintain and stress. The artist has long since been associated with the Ruskin School of Art as both alumnus and fellow. The work, which ‘refers to the standby mode of digital devices rather than a restful state’, features a disturbing utopian never-setting sun and a chorus of synchronised, soft and ingenuously synthetic voices. It feels never-ending, possibly like our interaction with technology – you are always able to ‘catch up’ and ‘reopen all windows from last session’. It’s easy to draw a parallel with Barbara Kruger who showed her new works at the gallery recently, as the text/image aesthetic is harmonised with the corporate bellows of advertising and marketing moguls, albeit with a Microsoft 95 execution.
Pierre Huyghe is forcing us to watch, and so pay witness to extinction. Or, ‘De-Extinction’ (2014), rather. It put me in a trance. I never knew I could watch a mosquito with such vested interest as it futilely tries to escape its amber prison. It’s almost sadistic really – watching it struggle, magnified and cinematic. It hints at the passive role humanity plays in the struggle inflicted upon, and then the disappearance of, our wildlife. And, above all, it’s incredibly beautiful.
There are other notable artworks but the aforementioned stood out. Yoko Ono’s ‘Eye Blink’ (1966) is a clever nod to the gallery’s history, as it was first shown at Modern Art Oxford in 1997. That said, it seemed more like a stale reminder than a reflection and so a tenuous addition to the curation. Just next to Ono’s work is Douglas Gordon’s harrowing ’24 Hour Psycho’ (1993) in which the classic Hitchcock film is slowed down to the duration of an entire day. Still terrifying 20 years on (it was first shown in 1996) this now iconic piece of YBA art is an apt (if intense!) addition to Modern Art Oxford’s celebration of ’50 inspirational years’.
Where the next half-century might take us nobody knows, but in the meantime all that’s left to say is Happy Birthday Modern Art Oxford! Long may the inspirational programming continue.
The ‘KALEIDOSCOPE’ programme runs until 31 December whilst the ‘Indivisible Present’ runs until 16 April – Modern Art Oxford.