The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture at The Hayward

25 August 2014 § Leave a comment

If there is one reassuring constant of sculpture over the ages it is the  repeated attempts at representations of the human form. The Hayward has brought together major works by twenty or so leading artists from the last quarter of a century and reflects on how we represent the ‘human’ today.

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 14/6/2014.They suggest that the exhibition  ‘pointedly revisits and update classical traditions of sculpture…  inventively remixing past and present’ but the visitor would be hard pressed to find the classical here, overwhelmed as it is by more Duchampian reworking of more modern movements. Grouping works thematically, and not always successfully, curator Ralph Rugoff addresses themes like consumerism, physical perfection, violence, religion, sex and death.

The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery
The least successful works involve the cliched use of shop mannequins. John Miller’s eroticised male mannequin poses in a pile of horse-shit, plaster on cheek whilst Isa Genzken’s are dressed with cheap charity shop sundries. Thomas Hirschhorn’s, 4 Women has them in a glass showcase, numbered one to four to represent increasing levels of alienation and violence.
The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery
Much better are Yinka Shonibare and Ryan Gander who both re-imagine Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer. In Shonibare’s version, the (headless) dancer has a surprise in store – in a fetching ethnic print dress she carefully clutches a pistol behind her back.
The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery
Ryan Gander versions have a more witty take. In one Degas’s dancer has taken a break from her plinth and sits behind on the floor enjoying a quick fag, whilst in another version stands on tiptoes to peer through a window.
The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery
I also liked Martin Honert’s sculptures. Based on personal photographs, the best has himself as a child sat at a table and painted with exaggerated light and shadow and faded ektachrome colours it has the eerie quality of memories somehow brought to life.
The Human Factor Cattelan
In an otherwise empty gallery is Maurizio Cattelan’s Him. From behind we approach a young boy on his knees in prayer. In a moment of shocking realisation you see it is actually Hitler. Eyes upwards is he penitent or simply pensive? A less successful work in another room features an unblemished John Kennedy lying in state. 
Mark Wallinger’s statue of christ, Ecce Homo, which once graced the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, is shown here on a low plinth, but still effective and whilst talking of Trafalgar Square Katharina Fritsch, of  blue cockerel fame, has three strong works exhibited. Each tableaux comprises a monochrome figure before a blown up photograph. In one a blown-up religious kitsch black Madonna stands in front of a photographic wall of ivy, another features a yellow chef and nondescript German roadside Inn.
The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 14/6/2014.
For more kitsch what better than Bear and Policeman (1988) by Jeff Koons – actually the oldest work in the show. An oversize toy bear with child-like stripy pullover and popping eyes, grasps a bobby’s whistle. Cute at first glance, but the grasp of the whistle hints at a deeper meaning – it is actually a metaphor for sexual humiliation.

Out on one of the terraces Pierre Huyghe has reworked a traditional reclining nude. In place of its head is a open hive, the bees busily swarming around whilst on another Rebecca Warren’s three lumpy women are tall, unrecognisable and totem-like.

The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery

Last but not least Paul McCarthy’s That Girl (T.G. Awake) is a diversion from his more familiar lumpy and vivid pink latex grotesques. He has turned to Hollywood experts to create three lifelike casts of the actress Elyse Poppers. Naked, exposed and legs apart they sit on glass-topped trestle tables. They are so disturbingly lifelike it is hard to escape the notion, however impossible, that they will somehow come to life.

There are omissions but to complain about missing artists or the few lesser works would be churlish. This is an excellent overview of the current – pretty healthy – state of figurative sculpture.

The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture until 7 September 2014

Elizabeth Price wins £60,000 Contemporary Art Society Annual Award

19 November 2013 § 2 Comments

Mark Wallinger, in a ceremony at the Dairy Art Centre in London last night, awarded the Contemporary Art Society annual prize to Elizabeth Price who will produce a work for the Ashmolean Museum. Price will create a significant new moving image piece will be premiered in Oxford on completion.

Elizabeth Price

Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price is an artist who uses images, text and music to explore archives and collections. While her work is informed by mainstream cinema and experimental film, it is mostly concerned with the medium of digital video and its comparative ubiquity in today’s culture.

Elizabeth Price_UserGroupDisco

Price’s commission will explore the archives and collections of the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum, looking particularly at photographs of artefacts and documents used historically by curators, anthropologists and archaeologists working in the field, while simultaneously engaging with digital technologies.

Elizabeth Price

Elizabeth Price was visibly delighted at winning the award.  “I’m so happy to win this prize. I’m particularly excited about the unique opportunity to work with the collections, and the people at the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums in Oxford.”

Price beat some fine artists to the award. Other entries were Jess Flood-Paddock for Birmingham Museums, Des Hughes for The Hepworth Wakefield and Lucy McKenzie.

Elizabeth Price

Although not a name that will be familiar to many art lovers the (CAS) has long been doing much important work ‘behind the scenes’ raising money, brokering purchases and awarding commissions. Now in its fifth year, this prestigious £60,000 prize is one of the highest value contemporary art awards in the country.

By means of its annual award CAS has donated many ‘firsts’ to museums across the country throughout its illustrious history, including the first works by Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon and, more recently, the first works by Damien Hirst, Elizabeth Price and 2013 Turner Prize nominee Laure Prouvost.


Images: Elizabeth Price, USER GROUP DISCO (2009), HD Video, 15 minutes. © the artist and MOT International. Gifted by the Contemporary Art Society to Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, in 2012.

mark wallinger at anthony reynolds

20 July 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, after dropping off some prints at an auction house that might start with the letter ‘S’ – I took advantage of the sun and took a casual stroll across Soho. Anthony Reynolds has a pleasant little gallery here and I made some time to drop in and take a look at Mark Wallinger’s latest exhibition. He has been firmly in the public consciousness in the last few years courtesy of his Turner Prize win in 2007, last years Trafalgar Square 4th plinth (Ecce Homo) and the giant White Horse commission for Ebbsfleet.

The White Horse is inspired and brilliant – take that you northerners with your rusty Angel of the North – we are going to get the clean sparkling White Horse of the South. It is simple yet memorable – gazing over the Kentish landscape the horse is a surreal vision worthy of Magritte. It recalls the horses of Stubbs, the chalk horses carved in to hill sides and represents the tradition and history of the country.

But what does Anthony Reynolds have to offer? It took a while to find out – five minutes of patient waiting after ringing the bell before I gained entrance. Just WHY do galleries even bother to lock their doors, especially when the contents (as here) are pretty much un-nickable (if you should even have the desire)? Harrods seem to manage OK with contents far more prone to theft. And whilst I’m having a whine Harrods staff also manage to say good morning when you greet them, which is more than can be said of the staff at half of London’s galleries – including this one.

OK – on to the art, or at least what there is of it – one work (Self) downstairs and one (I am Innocent) upstairs. Self is a big ‘I’ in Roman lettering, the same height as Wallinger himself, but not nearly as corpulent (image right of the 2D version!). It is clearly a cipher for himself, a philosophical ‘I’, a representation of ‘I’, used in print it is a publically disseminated ‘I’, ‘I’ as we – and so on. Not difficult Mark – I get it. Just in case we don’t here is what he says:

 The capital letter I; Times New Roman; A life-sized sculpture of Self

Times New Roman is how we are all represented by default. I A standing figure, a cipher made of concrete. The smallest poem of our sense of self in the world, of the world, our self is shared with everyone. What I have to say is said in our stead.

Where is I if it is us and how can I ever be me?

I am

Language includes us in the continuum…

And so he goes on… and on and on… with this irritating, self-centred, patronising guff. Mark, I got it as soon as I walked in, as any teenage art student would. This would be forgiven if it was visually arresting or intriguing. It is not – it is marginally less interesting than the pillar that holds up the end of my kitchen.

Upstairs it gets worse (and that is without irritating you with the Press Release text). A twirling screenprint, looking like it was thrown together in a few hours, of Pope Innocent hangs from the ceiling. The image is mirrored on the reverse so the Pope (of Velasquez) maintains his 2D gaze. It’s the ‘I’ or ‘eye’ looking at us looking at him. Who is the observer/observed? He is omnipotent but is he innocent – are we innocent? Yawn… perhaps he is the Emperor – in his new clothes.

The renowned Benjamin Buchloh is a fierce critic accusing him of  regurgitating “retardataire humanist, if not outright mythical or religious … messages,” and more, dumping Wallinger at the bottom of his artistic waste heap alongside his ‘Billy Graham’ of art, Bill Viola. I can see what he means… but then again there is that big white animal on the horizon. Wallinger can get it right – sometimes.

These two new works might have been vaguely interesting and original in 1995 but not now Wallinger. Bend over my boy, I have six Arial Bolds for you……

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