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

david shrigley at stephen friedman

7 March 2012 § Leave a comment

Humour is not hard to find in postmodern art – a typical definition of postmodernism will probably include humour alongside parody and irony – and we are all familiar with works like Maurizio Cattelan‘s Pope Struck by a Meteorite (below), Jeff KoonsRabbit and Gavin Turk‘s Blue Plaque. But this is not laugh out loud humour – or should I say nowadays lol humour – this is more like the knowing chuckle of the West End audience in a performance of an Alan Bennett play. So when we do get a work of art that we can really laugh at (presuming that we are not laughing at its awfulness) it is instinctive to ask ourselves whether this really is art or not. Surely we should not be lol-ing at proper art?

But lol I did at the wonderful David Shrigley‘s exhibition at Stephen Friedman. Shrigley of course has a big retrospective currently showing at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank (to be reviewed later) and Friedman has taken the opportunity to use both his West End gallery spaces for a parallel exhibition. A lot of his work of course is on paper but he has broadened his output to include sculpture, animation, taxidermy and photography.

The first gallery space at Steven Friedman is taken over by the darkly humorous and rather disconcerting Bombs, an installation of black ceramic sculptures, subverting the destructive nature of a real bomb using a rather delicate material. In the next a sculptured word – writing – sits upon a small wall mounted platform, no explanation required.

A clever animation in the back room is of an artist faithfully depicting his model on canvas: the breasts are first (is that what that the artist is really interested in?), then the rest of the body and head, until finally after careful consideration, adding a smile to replace the glum expression of the model. The cynical suggestion of course is that art is there to please – the artist changing the reality to fit the expectations and commercial realities.

The most humorous works are those on paper over the road at Friedman’s other gallery space. Too many to describe and I do not have any images, but some random images below just for fun or for some more examples of his work have a look at the Steven Friedman Gallery website or better still drop in next time you are in the West End!

David Shrigley is at the Steven Friedman gallery until 10 March 2012.

littlewhitehead getting bigger

16 November 2010 § Leave a comment

A pair of legs emerge from pink balloons that have floated to the ceiling. A boy with a Darth Vader mast sits alone in a row of school desks. Hoodies gather menacingly around a hidden corner. A hooded hostage is tied to a metal chair.

Maurizio Cattelan - Frank & Jamie

Welcome to the world of Littlewhitehead. Craig Little and Blake Whitehead are the two halves of this Glasgow-based art duo that take their inspiration from the city’s working class and bleak industrial landscape. Darkly humorous their work is initially reminiscent of Maurizio Cattelan pieces like the inverted policemen Frank & Jamie. But where the Italian gently mocks the system and the art world itself Littlewhitehead investigate rather darker aspects of life. There is the latent violence in the group of hoodies gathered in It Happened in the Corner; the schoolboy at the desks in Spam wears the helmet of the evil Darth Vader but is he lonely, alienated or violent?; the pretty pink balloons in Sentient Orbs have been cheerfully collected but the happiness is negated by the greed which has raised the owner to the ceiling.

“Within our work there is a strong connection between the reality that surrounds us and some kind of escapism to a made-up world,” littlewhitehead explain. “This made-up world is the construct of a dialogue between the two of us, which infuses scenes from an encyclopaedic range of references, from video nasties, to current events, and subconscious musings. It is in that world, unlike the one we actually inhabit, where we can fulfil these sinister desires.”

I initially dismissed their work at Saatchi, where It Happened was exhibited in Newspeak Part 1, but on further viewing I now appreciate their work more.  I think that perhaps in a new century these darker aspects of life have increasing resonance and relevance.

For collectors their work is currently extraordinarily good value – mostly well under £10,000 a piece – and in my mind is well worth considering. A little fairy tells me that they have something very big coming up this year (not allowed to tell, sorry) and now would be a great time to take a closer look at these interesting artists.

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