Saturday 5 November 2016


Kaleidoscope, at Modern Art, Oxford.

Kaleidoscope is a series of interlinking exhibitions celebrating 50 years of modern art. They were in the process of setting up a new exhibition when I visited but I was pleased with the little  I was able to see.

Agnes Martin, On a Clear Day, thirty screen prints on paper, 1973:

This series of 30 screen prints exploring grid configurations records Martin's obsession with precision. She wanted the printer to straighten out her lines, which she said she could never paint straight enough. The prints are pure and mathematical, they feel resolute where her paintings are serene. They evoke a sensation of infinite space on a modest scale. Barely visible, but resolutely present. The colour so pale and the form so slight that it appears to be on the cusp of disappearing altogether. Quiet but not silent. Martin found the voice through which she could most satisfactorily express pure emotion in the grid; a means of making paintings that were devoid of intellectual content and that satisfied her pursuit of transcendent beauty: 'Finally, I got the grid, and it was what I wanted. Completely abstract. Absolutely no hint of any cause in this world', she wrote.

Acclaimed for her abstract work created over five decades, Martin consistently used a limited palette of pale colour washes combined with simple geometric forms such as lines and grids. Martin encouraged her audience to undertake 'the exploration of mind and the adventure within the mind'.
The art historian Briony Fer has noted of Martin's work: 'It is striking that Martin does not draw a distinction between drawing and painting. On the contrary, she collapses it. And she collapses too the expectations of formal abstraction, reducing painting to the barest of means and the most modest intent'.

On a Clear Day was first exhibited at Modern Art Oxford in 1975. The exhibition was part of an effort to bring international minimal and conceptual art to the UK.

Yoko Ono, Cloud Piece, 1963,  (2016), (inkjet printed pad, 250 sheets):

Cloud Piece is part of Grapefruit, an artist's book written by Yoko Ono, originally published in 1964. It has become famous as an early example of conceptual art, containing a series of 'event scores' that replace the physical work or art - the traditional stock-in-trade of artists - with instructions that an individual may, or may not, wish to enact. Grapefruit is one of the monuments of conceptual art of the early 1960s. Ono's approach to art was only made acceptable when white men like Kosuth and Weiner came in and did virtually the same thing as Ono, but made them respectable and collectible.

'Among my instruction paintings, my interest is mainly in painting to be constructed in your head', she said in an interview. 'Instruction painting separates painting into two different functions: the instructions and the realisation. The work becomes a reality only when others realise the work. Instructions can be realised by different people in many different ways. This allows infinite transformation of the work that the artist herself cannot foresee, and brings the concept of time into painting. It immediately eliminates the usual emphasis put on the original painting, and art comes down from the pedestal. Instruction painting makes it possible to explore the invisible, the world beyond the concept of time and space. And then, sometimes later, the instructions themselves will disappear and be properly forgotten'.

Created in 1963, this instruction work by Yoko Ono  calls on each viewer to imagine a fresh way of encountering the natural world in the present moment. Visitors were invited to take a copy of Cloud Piece and follow the instructions if desired.

249 pieces had been taken when I visited, and 250 was the last one, and it was stuck on the wall, so I was not able to take it with me, but I took a photograph.

Richard Long, Walking a Labyrinth, 1971/2016:

First created for Modern Art Oxford in 1971, this enormous rectilinear maze-like 'floor drawing' made from clay,  invites visitors to walk along its myriad of paths. The piece is one of the artist's first large-scale interior installations, and creates a relationship between viewer, the materiality of the natural world, and interior and exterior environments.

'My footsteps make the mark. My legs carry me across the country. It's like a way of measuring the world. I love that connection to my own body. It's me to the world'.

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