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SARAH MAYHEW checks out the first exhibition at High House Gallery in Clanfield – a look at humour in art Fancy a ride out? What if I whispered that an ambitious new art gallery and temporary sculpture garden has opened in Clanfield (20 miles west of Oxford)?
Exhibitions at High House, an imposing Victorian property dating from 1856, are free to view, and if its inaugural shows are anything to go by, High House Gallery is going to give the Oxfordshire art scene an inspirational leg up.
“Many a true word is said in jest!” so the saying goes…and the saying resounds so strongly through the exhibition Momentarily Absurd that I’m not entirely sure how funny this exhibition is (she types, biting fist whilst doing so).
Momentarily Absurd is the gallery’s opening exhibition and looks at wit in contemporary art. A gutsy choice for the first show, and I doff my cap to Martin Jenner of HHG for his selection of artists whose works exist eye-wateringly close to the socio-political bone (see www.kennardphillipps.com and remember whose constituency the gallery sits in).
Jenner explains: “By using humour, artists reveal the hidden structures of our ordered world. Through humour we can address the taboo and open up a wider discourse to important topics. It is a way of avoiding direct responsibility, criticising social systems from within, enabling us to escape from our normal ordered world.”
A joke simply isn’t funny in isolation; it needs context, to be supported by ideas and thoughts – the audience needs to be able to relate to it or place it. And it’s the same with conceptual art, it relies upon background to engender emotions and thoughts that have not previously been experienced.
Some of the simplest jokes seem momentarily absurd, and the audience encounters a jolt as it struggles to understand the illogical. And that’s when humour raises its head, in this shift from reality to unreality.
Humour in contemporary art takes many forms, and it’s not uncommon to encounter jokes, parody, comedy, irony, satire, political and nonsense, but this hasn’t always been the case.
A hundred years ago wit had virtually no part in high art, that is until the avant-garde arrived and stirred up the status quo.
Marcel Duchamp put a urinal on a pedestal and called it Fountain. The gates were opened, other artists followed; now humour is firmly established in the art world, and it has long been accepted that witty work can indeed be very serious. This exhibition features work by Doyle and Mallinson, Harry Hill, KennardPhillips, Littlewhitehead, Alison Jackson, Julie Cockburn and John Stezaker, a broad selection of artists that employ ingenious strategies to make their various points.
Packing another very serious punch, High House Gallery opens up its gardens to Dividing Line, an exhibition of contemporary outdoor sculpture presented in association with Sumarria Lunn Gallery.
Having recently taken up residence at 36 South Molton Lane, Mayfair Sumarria Lunn Gallery is the brainchild of the brilliant, baby-faced, and ambitious art-dealing duo Will Lunn and Vishal Sumarria.
Challenging the norm and shaking things up in gardens across idyllic west Oxfordshire, Dividing Line challenges the conservative investments of historically established styles that the private art market trends towards when picking out pieces for the back garden. This exhibition aims to dig an elbow in the water-spewing cherubs in garden centres and shine a spotlight on contemporary outdoor sculpture that has escaped the tradition of regurgitating stale figurative and modernist modes.
The line-up of exhibiting artists, many of whom are taking their work outside for the first time and making new works, includes Andreas Blank, Alex Chinneck, Adeline de Monseignat, Sam Knowles, Nika Neelova, David Rickard, Amy Stephens, Jiho Won and Sam Zealey.
If this is a sign of things to come at High House Gallery, I’m moving to Clanfield – anyone want a lift?
* High House Gallery, Main Street, Clanfield, OX18 2SH Call 01367 810126, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.highhousegallery.com Thursday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm, until September 16