More than 40 artists have flooded every possible space within ikon. A sprawling tribute to the late curator Michael Stanley. It is an outpouring of love and respect that has affected each room and sound and smell as you move through the gallery. Art before you walk into the building, a pungent rubber punch hits as you enter the reception, which is itself clad in a green mock-wood decal, whilst the spoken words of a David Bowie song call out from something somewhere. This is a gallery transformed, a gallery filled with personal tributes, tailored pieces, specifically evocative of the life and work of an inspiring individual.
All those on show had worked with and exhibited for Stanley whilst he was a curator at Ikon, Milton Keynes Gallery, Modern Art Oxford, and Compton Verney, either offering works that they felt best represented Stanley or works from shows that he had curated. As a result, there is not an immediate or overbearing or striking visual connection between the art inside the gallery walls, rather they are connected by a feeling, a sentimentality, it is clear that these artists cared and cherished their relationship with Michael Stanley.
This feeds into the construction and conception of the show, carried out by three bookish men who have based the exhibition on Rex Warner’s dystopian 1941 novel ‘The Aerodrome’, a book that had great significance with Stanley. A tale with enduring relevance to our times, of democracy and fascism, of pastoral life and regimented mystery. But this is a very loose application of the themes employed in the book, and as such do not walk into the show and expect literary references to tumble out of each painting and installation and video and sculpture. Do expect destruction, reconstruction, decay, flight, machinery, whiteness, normality, beauty and absurdity to feature, placed against one another, never overbearing, always thoughtful.
Within the broad structure of the Aerodrome, there is some theme to some rooms. Or the last two rooms, at least. A mechanical industry connects the works in the penultimate room, dimly lit to allow the siren-like action of Siobhan Hapaska’s Earthed to command the space, opposite a crystallised engine that floats as if it were a discarded and preserved piece of coral, glimmering softly in the flickering light. Whiteness pervades in the final room, a white structure to lead you in, a white figure falling or flying? Colour sessions meditating on white, a white door, following into a space filled entirely with salt and topped off by a small crucifix. Contemplative and surreal, the exhibition is a hodge podge of conflicting visions and ideas and worldviews, carrying you through from John Constable’s gorgeous Study of Clouds to the computerised military operations that endlessly repeat in the room directly above it.
‘The Aerodrome’ is not really an exhibition celebrating the book that gives it its name, it is not an exhibition with any obvious narrative, nor overarching structure, rather it is a celebration of a curator whose ideas, vision, and memory will flourish with the people who cared about him. Those people have given us ‘The Aerodrome’, a rare opportunity to experience art on a truly personal level.