‘Love is Enough’ ran from April 25th – September 6th 2015 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and my review of this exhibition was published last July by online film, music, style and art magazine, Kolekto. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to the images that ran alongside this piece, but you can still see them here.
When thinking about this month’s theme – Icon – in relation to art and the art world, it’s understandable that you might find yourself contemplating the works of William Morris and Andy Warhol. To put these two disparate artists together however, in an exhibition that not only attempts to draw parallels between the artists’ works, but also highlights the similarities in their lifestyles and beliefs, could be considered a bit of a stretch.
At Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, former Turner Prize winner, Jeremy Deller, has curated Love Is Enough, an exhibition aiming to prove that despite almost a century between the working lives of this unlikely duo, there are several junctures at which their careers seem to interrelate. Separated into four sections: ‘Camelot’, ‘Hopes and Fears for Art’, ‘A Factory as it Might be’ and ‘Flower Power’, Love Is Enough showcases Warhol’s iconic images of Joan Collins and Dame Elizabeth Taylor against the delicate tapestries and elaborate wallpaper designs of Morris in order to create an exhibition that doesn’t so much as compare the two, but rather uses these contrasting works to emphasise both artists’ distinct uniqueness.
It has to be said that the similarities in the lives of designer, writer and artist, William Morris, and film-maker, screen-printer and appropriation artist, Andy Warhol, are almost as significant as their differences. Born into an affluent family in London during the early nineteenth century, Morris enjoyed playing outside as a child, his days spent in the family’s large garden riding his Shetland pony and reading medieval tales. Life for Warhol wasn’t quite as idyllic; a neurological disorder diagnosed in childhood meant that Warhol – born in 1928 to a working class family in Pennsylvania – frequently missed school and spent much of his time indoors writing to famous Hollywood stars.
This period in their lives and the work it would later inspire, is the focus of Deller’s first section in Love Is Enough, the cleverly titled Camelot, a name that draws on both artists’ childhood fascinations and cements the link between their differing works in a manner that is perhaps a little more obvious than it otherwise would be. Here we find Morris’s Holy Grail tapestries (based on King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail) alongside Warhol’s images of John and Jackie Kennedy (JFK’s term in office was notoriously nicknamed ‘Camelot’) and large-scale tapestry of Marilyn Monroe.
The second section – ‘Hopes and Fears for Art’ – is a collection of works that demonstrate the effects that the political climate of the time had on the approach and content of our artists’ productivity. In 1882, Morris converted to Socialism and much of the work in this section is dedicated to his writings on the subject. Warhol’s political inclinations, on the other hand, are much harder to establish, but his screen-print, ‘American Race Riot’ (1964) along with iconic images, ‘Electric Chair II.82’ (1971) and ‘Gun’ (1981), lead us to envisage a man keen to expose the disturbing landscape of the latter half of the twentieth century. ‘A Factory as it Might be’ heads up the penultimate section of Love Is Enough where photographs of Morris’s manufacturing works at Merton Abbey are displayed alongside images of Warhol’s New York studio, the Factory. Not only do these photos allow us a rare insight into the working environments of these two men, but the black and white nature of the images highlights the resemblance in their chosen workplaces. Another important similarity that is drawn in this section is both artists’ progression into the publishing sector. Copies of Warhol’s ‘Interview’ magazine, founded by the artist in 1969, and works printed by the Kelmscott Press established by Morris in 1891, demonstrate both artists’ ability to find new platforms for their work.
‘Flower Power’ is the final section of Love Is Enough and it is here that we see what could be considered the most recognisable likeness between the works of Morris and Warhol. During their careers both artists used nature as a way of articulating deeper emotions, transforming flowers and foliage into two-dimensional designs that are intricately realistic in Morris’s wallpaper and curtain outlines and wildly abstract in Warhol’s screen-prints and collages. Though the pieces displayed in this section do not echo each other in style, their content shows the dedication and importance that each artist gave to this particular subject.
Love Is Enough may seem a strange cocktail of varying artistic styles and approaches, but if you’re open enough to find the links (or are happy enough to cheat and read the detailed literature that runs alongside each section), there are undeniable similarities between the lives and works of William Morris and Andy Warhol. Are there other artists that could be considered a more obvious comparison to each of these two men? Almost certainly, but where would be the fun in that?