Michael Stanley
Courtesy of Ikon Gallery

How to commemorate a life cut tragically short? An exemplary example is offered by Birmingham's Ikon. The gallery has just opened an exhibition dedicated to the memory of Michael Stanley, who was a curator at Ikon before becoming director of Milton Keynes Gallery and then Modern Art Oxford before his sudden death in 2012.

The Aerodrome is loosely structured around from Rex Warners eponymous allegorical 1941 novel, a favourite book of Stanleys, and is co-curated by two of his artist friends, George Shaw and David Austen. Stanleys myriad interests—political, literary, philosophical and artistic—and the range and quality of the artists he worked with make this a rich, multilayered exhibition that offers many entry points.

The first room contains three works that each in their own way offer a form of memento mori. Theres a Constable cloud study of 1822 from Oxfords Ashmolean Museum; Anya Gallaccios Preserve Beauty (1991-2019), in which densely-packed fresh gerberas are sandwiched behind three sheets of glass and left to decay over time; and, especially poignantly, Chair Falling, a looped Super-8 film that shows an empty chair repeatedly falling and breaking made by a twenty year old Stanley for his Ruskin School of Art degree show in 1995.

David Austen, Fallen Man, 2013
Louisa Buck

Each of the forty nine artists selected has a particular relevance to Stanley, yet the show is more than a parade of favoured works. It also coheres as an arresting, thought provoking show in its own right with conversations and connections running throughout. A counterpoint to Constables clouds is Michael Saistorfers oppressive pungent black Cloudscape made from inflated industrial inner tyre tubes which had its first showing at MAO and now dangles from the ceiling of the Ikons entrance lobby. Langlands & Bell are showing animations of swirling three letter airport acronyms while Austens painting of Fallen Man tumbles like Icarus into an abyss. In a room devoted to dysfunctional machines, Roger Hiorns clogs a Vauxhall engine with encrustations of turquoise copper sulphate crystals and Siobhaun Hapaska scales up and converts a Roman Catholic altar lamp into a flashing hazard warning.

As in Warners book, here the countryside is also no easy idyll. Nature is skewed in Richard Woods cartoonish wood grain cladding as well as in Graham Sutherlands 1940s painting of a bristling cornstook and Marcus Coates film of a Chelsea football supporter, delivering his chants like a raucous bird of prey as he strides through leafy woodland. A particular highlight is Adrian Pacis beautiful and disquieting 2006 film of children—including Stanleys—that uses the reflection of mirrors to charge an oh-so English landscape with magic and mystery. It is a film infused with a quiet sense of absence and loss, and Read More – Source


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