William Morris and Andy Warhol are two artists that I would not think to put together. Jeremy Deller however, thinks differently and has curated a fascinating show that displays the pair’s work side by side at Modern Art Oxford.
When you walk into the main galleries inside Modern Art Oxford you are immediately handed a hefty exhibition guide, at least twice the size of the leaflets that normally accompany blockbuster, paid shows. For a free exhibition outside London it seemed slightly bizarre. I thought it too big to read immediately, however it shows that the subject of display chosen by Turner Prize winner Deller is one that he clearly gave a lot of thought. In fact, Deller met Warhol in his twenties and even spent a fortnight working at his infamous New York ‘Factory.’ Yet, it is not Warhol who is first shown to us in Oxford, but Morris, with the opening work being a tapestry panel from his Quest for the Holy Grail displayed against walls that have been covered in his celebrated wallpaper.
The show begins in a room themed around the idea of mythology with a juxtaposition of Morris’s beloved Camelot and Warhol’s love for Hollywood, with prints of Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor adjacent to the Morris tapestry. Also shown are the two artist’s political interests. This is seen in Morris’s socialist publications that have been displayed beside early issues of Warhol’s Interview magazine. Also on display in the political spectrum are Warhol’s prints of Chairman Mao, race riots and the electric chair. Yet Deller has argued that these have not been displayed for explicitly political reasons but in order to emphasize the artist’s love and obsession with Americana.
While the link between the two artists does seem to be a little forced, in their production the similarities appear to be more direct. Tapestry, weaving and screen-printing provided both artist’s to create work for the masses. There are dozens if not hundreds, even thousands of artworks by both Morris and Warhol in circulation, which is not something that can be said for many artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Both artists employed factories in order to produce and reproduce their work and would become everlasting icons for future generations.
This show is fascinating, even if Deller’s comparisons are tenuous at times. I urge everyone to see it, even if it is to see the strangely attractive display of Warhol prints against Morris wallpaper!
Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol is on display at Modern Art Oxford until 8 March