This winter, Modern Art Oxford presents a new commission by Swiss artist Nicolas Party (b. 1980, Lausanne, lives and works in Brussels and New York). Party transforms Modern Art Oxford’s Piper Gallery into a theatrical set inhabited by a cast of large female heads.
Reacting to what the artist considers the heavily masculine energy of Oxford’s architecture and academic histories, the commission is a contemporary monument to the diverse achievements of pioneering women in the city and its universities across the centuries. A key reference point is the set of carved stone busts that crown the railings of Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre (first sculpted for the site in 1662–83), known colloquially as the heads of the emperors.
The heads are unique, individually painted sculptures, dominating the physical space of the gallery at a height of two metres tall. The five sculptures produce an atmosphere of immersion and drama. Party has designed the heads to incorporate audio soundtracks which will offer up improvised theatrical encounters for gallery visitors.
Treating the exhibition as a theatrical space, Nicolas Party, together with Modern Art Oxford, is embracing the collective and collaborative spirit of the theatre. There is a curated series of public events taking place in the Piper Gallery, from music recitals to artist residencies, which recognise the wide-ranging history of women’s contributions to cultural life and international academic and research communities. The series begins with a performance of Ethel Smyth’s String Quartet in E Minor (1914) by the Stanford Quartet during the Preview Party on 24 November.
Party is both a classically trained painter and former graffiti artist. He has developed a signature aesthetic of saturated colour and flat, graphic style which is instantly recognisable. Recent exhibitions include Hammer Projects: Nicolas Party at the Hammer Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles, Pathway for the Dallas Museum of Art (both 2016), and sunrise, sunset at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. and Dinner for 24 Sheep, Gallery Met, The Metropolitan Opera, New York (both 2017).Courtesy of Modern Art Oxford. Photography: Ben Westoby