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“Love is Enough”

Few designers can say that they haven’t been influenced to some degree (either directly or indirectly) by the work of the designer, poet, novelist, and socialist activist William Morris (father of the Arts and Crafts movement), which is why I was so keen to visit the “Love is Enough” exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. In this show, curated by Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller, Morris’s work is compared and contrasted with that of Andy Warhol.

At first glance this might appear to be a rather unlikely pairing, but according to Deller, it seems that Morris and Warhol have rather a lot in common. In this unorthodox show the artist presents a new reading into the work of two of his greatest inspirations, displaying prints, tapestries, publications and sketches from throughout their respective careers.

Hugely influential in their own lifetime, both Morris and Warhol began their creative ventures in commercial sectors, before redefining the role of the artist in relation to wider society. Morris was a passionate advocate for social change, strongly believing that the labour and beauty of art could revolutionise the social structure in Britain. He used his textile company to produce stunning designs that embodied the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement, harking back to form of mediaeval romanticism.

Warhol’s own political agenda is often overlooked in the general perception of his work, and is well known for his obsession with the idea of the icon, especially in terms of Hollywood stardom. His incredible influence over the merging of fame, media and high art can still be felt today, but his concept of ‘Common-ism’ – in which the banal and everyday is celebrated and art is available and equal to all – is sometimes not fully contemplated.

Highlights of the show for me were Warhol’s iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, plus archival material including a signed photograph of Shirley Temple posted to a 13-year-old Andy in 1941.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Birmingham’s Holy Grail tapestries, produced by Morris & Co., and the only series in a UK public collection. This is a truly revealing insight into the work and philosophy of these two giants of the art world and an exhibition well worth a visit.