Modern Art Oxford, The Vanished Reality: Exploring Context And Temporality

During 2016 Modern Art Oxford presented KALEIDOSCOPE ‘The Vanished Reality’, its final exhibition in a series of shows celebrating the Gallery’s 50th anniversary. The show consisted of nine artists who work with various media, presenting photography, sculpture, painting, video and installation, juxtaposing the socio-political, economic and environmental frameworks within which the works were made.

This was in fact, a multi-generational exhibition including pieces by Marcel Broodthaers, Hans Haacke, Iman Issa, Darcy Lange, Louise Lawler, Maria Loboda, Kerry James Marshall, Katja Novitskova, and Hardeep Pandhal, with works that were reflective and temporal contemplations of its varying eras, as we simultaneously revisit Modern Art Oxford’s fascinating history.

This was the concluding exhibition in the celebratory series of interconnected shows spanning 2016, with a journey which has seen the Gallery take a nostalgic look through some of its curatorial highlights from the past 50 years. In doing so, curators have presented works from across the Gallery’s long history and recontextualised them with contemporary works of art and the present day; highlighting everything from temporality, consumerism, conceptuality, and consciousness.

Among the wide array of works displayed were the notable pieces by Louise Lawler, with the artist’s self-reflexive ‘tracings’ of her own photographic works superimposed on the gallery walls, recontextualising them with the physical and cultural environment, and, of course, Hans Haacke’s, ‘A Breed Apart’, 1978; a brutal and unflinching attack on capitalism and political power, exposing systems of influence with the artist’s assault on British Leyland for their seeming assistance of Apartheid.

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Katja Novitskova, Louise Lawler, installation view. KALEIDOSCOPE: The Vanishing Reality, Modern Art Oxford. Photo P A Black © 2016.

Then there were the giant cut-out animals of Katja Novitskova’s ‘Approximations Series’. The artist appropriates images of animals from the internet; the flat cut-out nature of the work is a signifier of its origins, as the digital image is reproduced exponentially, multiplying like a virus as the animals themselves, head toward the oblivion of possible extinction; a terrible irony. All the works form a reclassified system, a dwindling eco-system recontextualised, an identity ‘evolved’ into a perpetual virtual reality system. A simple yet powerful piece, highlighting the emptiness of the ‘replacement’.

But the primary element of the curatorial focus on context and temporality, is the video work ‘Studies of Teaching in Four Oxfordshire Schools, UK 1977’ by conceptual artist Darcy Lange. The series was shown with black-and-white photographs in the exhibition Work Studies in Schools, at what was then the Museum of Modern Art Oxford, in 1977.

The video studies of teachers’ performances become almost ‘performative’ in nature, and were extended by then videotaping the teachers’ and pupils’ reaction and analysis of those very recordings – in conversation with the artist, resulting in a self-reflexive recontextualised system. With the passage of time and the context of hindsight the work has also become a fascinating historical document of a temporal, sociological, and cultural location, a fitting curatorial conclusion to a year-long celebration of 50 years of art at Modern Art Oxford.

Paul Black
Art Journalist

Featured Image – Katja Novitskova, Approximations Series, detail, KALEIDOSCOPE: The Vanished Reality, Modern Art Oxford. Photo P A Black © 2016.

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