Take ‘Notice!’ – celebrating Modern Art Oxford

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Eva Kotatkova’s ‘The Storyteller Inadequacy’ may have stolen the show this winter at Modern Art Oxford, but the quiet and colourful Piper Gallery houses one of the most important shows that the gallery has seen in recent years. “Charting the complete graphic design history of the gallery, this exhibition is a photographic trompe l’oeil of around 400 unique posters from the Modern Art Oxford archive,” reads the description.

Modern Art Oxford has been a prominent space both in Oxford and in the national art scene since it was founded in 1965. Notice! is a record of the hundreds of experimental and extremely influential exhibitions that have taken place at Pembroke Street and earlier at the Bear Lane Gallery. Making use of the 500 rare and original posters in its archives, the exhibit tracks changes in exhibition – making over the last 50 years charting progress in layout, branding, political undertones and graphic design.

To create the piece, the posters (all originals taken from the archives) were fixed to the walls of the Piper Gallery and photographed in order to create a floor- to-ceiling representation of the posters in their actuality. The historicity of these posters is brought to light and made very real, as some posters are exhibited with their slight creases or with their corners captured rolling upwards as they slowly unfurl from the wall, leaving small squares of Blu-Tack visible behind.

The effect is a very honest and vast floor- to-ceiling display, capturing the essential vibrancy of these pieces of ‘art-marketing.’ On first glance the chronological ordering of the room is vaguely apparent. Most obviously, the recent posters of the noughties are much more regimented in size and framing, in comparison to the earliest pieces, being more heavily and consistently branded. Conversely, the mainly artist-created posters of the 60s vary in size, layout, and information given. The handmade quality of these early pieces is extraordinary, yet in some cases the details of the exhibition are not provided, granting a spontaneous, abstract vibe.

The movement from the ‘60s and ‘70s posters towards the corporate branding of the ‘80s is clear as the museum logo makes an appearance and the use of technology and graphic design become more apparent. The ‘90s see further technological advances and the ‘branding’ extends from the museum to a more clearly brand-focussed ‘artist’ also.

The artist is still at the foreground of the poster but in a very different way.Their artwork is still displayed but the focus shifts more towards the advertisement and marketing of the artist alongside that of the museum- dual layers of marketing and branding within one piece.

Political undertones are evident within the posters. A series of four posters from the ‘80s are presented. They are particularly text heavy and encompass the style of pieces of propaganda as the content of these range from Russian politics to World War Two. These were thepiecesthatweremostfascinating. Great names of British and worldwide art were evident- Tracey Emin’s ‘This is Another Place’ and Robert Doisneau’s exhibitions wowed me, and seeing names from Pasternak to Noel Forster, Gillian Ayres and Jenny Saville hugging the walls was quite astounding.

Most interesting however was viewing these names presented alongside the above propaganda-style pieces, one of which stated: “Whilst the world listened to HIFI from Japan, a museum tuned into art.” Also prominent were two posters for 1988 exhibitions of photography from the height of the AIDS crisis.

This celebration of art history and the history of Modern Art Oxford is displayed in an unimaginable way – one which has local pull and importance and which allows these pieces to speak honestly. The posters are grouped simply as pieces from an extensive and dusty archive, but the stories that they tell span tragedy, greatness and an international art history.

Notice! Is at Modern Art Oxford until the 2nd of February 2014.

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