Wednesday, 5 February 2014

What's The Point of It? Martin Creed Exhibition

I have a long standing love of the Hayward Gallery which to my mind stands on the cusp of the art establishment (despite showing much of the Art's Council collection) on a windswept crag called the Southbank. It's a good size for a satisfying show and Martin Creed has made a really good fist of this task. I informed a colleague where I was going and we both chuckled at the idea that one reviewer found "Joy" within the exhibition. I mean martin Creed is not a joyful artist is he? Wrong. The show has the effect of instantaneously imparting the knowledge that Martin Creed has been joyous all along. His familiar themes are there - the minimalist repetition and the cod-systematic distillation but Creed has adeptly placed them in an edifying context. Sol le Wit was never this charming I thought as I watched a beautiful oriental woman take a crap on a pristine white floor whilst a gallery attendant gently tickled the ivories in a resolutely ascending and descending scale. In an uncanny piece of scynchronicity the cloak room attendant had handed me my ticket saying "you can have number two". I mention synchronicty because Creed gets to the edge of implying we live in a magic universe and that all these basic patterns that possibly underpin everything actually might unlock its secrets. Except he doesn't go that far but nor does he sneer down his crinkled nose at the wonder seekers. David Shrigley also had a one man show at the Hayward and there are similar minimalist themes but Shrigley's world is heavily ironic and Creed's is not. This is a pretty skilful feat to pull off. His various stacks and scales put the business of classification through an alchemical process whereby the logic that once seemed transparent somehow alludes us. This is the technique that allows more freeform and representational pieces to sit in harmony with minimalist studies. Is it going too far to make the comparison with Bach's etudes? An individual's approach to creating exercises can be just as revealing as complete freedom. If not more.
The essence that Creed seems to seek is human-ness but unlike Shrigley his version has a joy at the absurd banality of life compared to a nihilistic cringe (I like both by the way). Creed has the critical distance that Greenberg urged us all to adopt way back when but he has managed to rejoin the human race. His work is saying I am an artist and a human (in no particular order) - The whole world plus the work equals the whole world.

*There is one piece that should have a spoiler alert which is not something you expect to say when writing about an art exhibition. Be prepared for the sublime.

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