= The Crawford Arts Review: Martin Creed: What’s the point of it?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Martin Creed: What’s the point of it?

Hayward Gallery

Southbank Centre
Extended until May Bank Holiday, Monday 5 May

The Hayward has permitted its every space to be opened up – and every room, including a glass-walled temporary room for 7000 large white balloons, the outside sculpture terraces, the lift, the toilets, the exits and the entrances – to be filled with the art of one man, Martin Creed's retrospective. The result is industrial

It's industrial both in scale and in many cases in concept.
The I-beam for Creed’s Mothers, is 12.5 metres long. The neon letters are 2.5 metres high. If you add the fact that the whole thing turns like a rather rickety giant rotor it is seriously scary.

The artistic metaphor of course is that when you are small, your mother (or father for that matter in the case of little girls) is really big. There's something about the very sound it makes that is unsettling: until you realize that it comes from 39 metronomes, all deliberately set to tick out of synch. 

The exhibition then starts to get hugely worthwhile and I start to see the point of the piano
The viewer should be aware that, apart from the fixed concrete benches on the terraces and the aforementioned toilets, there is absolutely nowhere to sit down: you are part of this art. So let's plough on to Room 2. Someone is playing the piano – a glossy black upright, highly polished, with shiny brass hinges and small cacti in pots on top. What is wrong with the sound? People are gathered round the pianist (who has a seat). The keyboard is intact but the sound is achromatic as if some of the notes were missing. Cue someone (possibly me) asking: “What’s the point of it?” It’s just an ordinary out-of-tune, piano after all (Work No. 736 Piano Accompaniment (2007)).
The work I find most beautiful . . . is an austere series of white-framed paper works

The exhibition then starts to get hugely worthwhile and I start to see the point of the piano later when a different pianist takes over. He, with the solemnity of a concert pianist, makes his way up the keyboard and down again, each note played with equal sonority (this is a performance grade upright), with a tempo that achieves the magisterial. The art piano is thus given the same importance as its brethren in the surrounding concert halls (please don't tell @RFHPiano I said this).

The work I find most beautiful, moving in fact, is an austere series of white-framed paper works, the first a sheet with the words ‘Ink on paper’ typed on it, the second a sheet that has been crumpled and straightened out, the third a sheet that has been folded again and again to make a small fat rectangle then straightened out. In their frames they look 2 dimensional but in fact even the typed sheet will carry the indentations of the printer, making all three sheets 3 dimensional. Like many people I think of myself as familiar with paper and ink. Here was Martin Creed showing me something simple that was also profound and beautiful.

There are over 160 works displayed, the output of more than 30 years of endeavour, from a self-portrait that dates from when the artist was around 16 and a work based on a sculpture (of a clenched fist) that he also made as a schoolboy. Work No. 1421 (2012) is a joyous thing, a bronze fist, plated in gold so that it takes on a fiery glow. I also liked the collection of balls arranged sculpturally on the floor as what Mr Searle in The Guardian called ". . . a sports solar system"; and oddly satisfying.

The three sculpture terraces contain a single work each: (1) a wall of brick – beautiful with its precise courses of coloured brick, almost a catalogue of "brick"; (2) a car that gives you all the experience of “car” without going anywhere. Doors and windows open and close, the horn sounds, lights go on and off, a football commentary blares from inside, there is the smell of petrol. In fact, just as Creed has made a domestic version of his Turner-Prize-Winning The lights going on and off (2000)
a standard lamp – Work No. 312 A lamp going on and off (2003) – this car too could well have spinoff potential, a work for the suburban living room perhaps. (3) is a large-scale projection (in slow motion) of his black and white film of an erect penis that cantilevers up and down, a study work should there be any engineers visiting. 

Let me not fail to mention the dildo cactii, a row of Acanthocereustetragonus or Pilosocereusroyenii (both of which are dubbed the dildo cactus), thin, spiky and aggressive and arranged in order of height. Considered to be a sexual innuendo that relates to both men (anus) and women (vagina), perhaps the latter is the most likely thought to occur to the casual viewer. Would that Mr Creed had nuanced this work perhaps with the addition of small sombreros
– or even bowler hats perched on top or left the work in the studio to amuse his friends. I didn't think it was needed here. 

There is also a nicely produced Children’s Guide to Martin Creed: What’s the point of it?

 Work No. 1363, 2012
© Martin Creed, Image courtesy the artist
and Hauser & Wirth with thanks to The Standard

The Other Art Fair
Ambika P3
University of Westminster
35 Marylebone Road
London NW1

Enjoy the work of 100 artists; buy online; take part in an online auction. Check out the work of Mat Kemp ('Looks like rain'  old Thames boatyard nails set in a diagonal series in plaster),  Ben Parker ('The Flying Donkey' and other mythic works that are superbly grounded), and Hitomi Kammai (moving images that reference Hiroshima and Fukushima
-- sold out!).

Learn more from editor Sophie Roberts' blog


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