An exhibition dedicated to the memory of an inspirational gallery curator and director who died too young brings together works by nearly 50 artists.
Michael Stanley was Director of Modern Art Oxford when he died in 2012, but had previously been a curator at Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire, and the Ikon in Birmingham and it is at the Ikon that the exhibition entitled The Aerodrome is being held.
The majority of the artists whose work is shown were personally connected with Stanley, in that he had worked with them or been responsible for exhibitions where their work was shown. There is though Study of Clouds by John Constable (1837) (below), an artist whose work he had wanted to exhibit.
The exhibition is co-curated by artists David Austen and George Shaw. George and Michael Stanley has known each other since George’s show at the Ikon in 2003, and they worked together when George curated an exhibition of Graham Sutherland works at Modern Art Oxford, An Unfinished World, back in 2011. (Review here)
In the bar at The Aerodrome opening, George explained: “Michael Stanley had given me a book, and then I mentioned the book to David Austin and then David read it much more closely than I did.”
The book was The Aerodrome, written by Rex Warner in 1941, and which had made a great impression on Michael Stanley. The Ikon describes it as “an allegorical novel whose young hero is faced with the disintegration of certainties about his loved ones and with a choice between the earthy, animalistic life of his home village and the pure, efficient, emotionally detached life of an airman. Its dystopian vision was very influential on writers such as Orwell, Burgess and Ballard.”
David found links in it between how Michael created exhibitions, and with things they were all interested in including English modernism, the post-war period, works of writers such as Auden, and Catholicism. George said he liked the religious imagery, relationships, and the fact that it wasn’t class-based but looked at the country from different sides.
“The nearest thing to it is the comparison with Brexit now”, he said.
“I found the Englishness and the attitude to modernity really intriguing and it mirrors up with my own inability to deal with the contemporary.”
The idea of an exhibition came up a long time ago: “We were thinking back through the history of Michael’s career as a curator and not forcing it into an agenda, but once we’d started it fitted very neatly and naturally together. It was a way of looking at a lifetime of a person’s career through the prism of one particular book.”
The exhibition they have created spreads through three floors of the Ikon and the Tower Room and contains a lot of varied art.
One of the first works on the first floor is Chair Falling, a Super 8 film by Michael Stanley from 1995, presumably from his degree show.
There is a painting by George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The New Red Starr, a still-standing but lost looking pub. David Austen’s contribution is Fallen Man (above), an image of a man gone so far forward his head has disappeared.
Anya Gallacio’s Preserve Beauty, 1991-2003, (above) is an installation of beautiful but fading flowers behind glass.
There is a Graham Sutherland drawing of Cornstack in Landscape from 1945-6, to mark the exhibition George Shaw curated at Oxford.
A subtle and attractive Paul Nash drawing, Nostalgic Landscape, from 1925 (below) also features.
Adrian Paci’s Per Speculum, a six minute film, features scary youngsters, unnerving stares and a mix of reality and mirrors.
Jenny Saville held her first solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2012 (review) but is showing a work from this year, Portrait of Lola, a graphite drawing of a woman.
The Tower Room has been filled with a huge amount of salt, in an installation by Linder Sterling called Salt Shrine 2007/19. It was originally commissioned by Michael Stanley and created with 40 tons of salt to be placed in the RE classroom of his high school the week before the school was demolished. It apparently features the same crucifix as in the original installation.
I hope he would appreciate that touch, and the effort, commitment and thought that has gone into creating this exhibition which should draw more people in to appreciate the artists he valued.
The exhibition continues until September 8.