…..is the question posed by the artist Martin Creed at his latest exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London.
Before I go any further I must point that I am by no means an art critic, I know the basics having studied art in college but that was a while ago. This review is purely an account of my own personal experience and reactions to the pieces on show.
My friend and I had set aside the day to go and see ‘The Light Princess’ at the National Theatre. Being a Saturday we were booked in for the matinee performance and had some time to spare beforehand. This exhibition was on nearby and I was so intrigued. I vaguely remember Creed’s work back from 2001 when he won the Turner Prize for his work No 227 ‘The lights Going On and Off’ and I remember having a giggle to myself and thinking ‘really?!’.
Really. And this exhibition turned out to be the best one I have been to for years. Never have I been to an exhibition where I have properly laughed out loud, been shocked, bemused, impressed, confused and entertained so much in one go.
Let’s start from the beginning. You walk through the doors and are immediately confronted with a giant, illuminated ‘Mother’s’ sign that spins over the whole room at a height of 6 foot 6 inches, meant to symobilse the powerful and sometimes overbearing nature of motherhood. Even though I am 5 foot 4 this constant swooping overhead was a little too close for comfort. We quickly exited this room into room 2, and where the fun began.
Room 2 housed some of Creed’s drawings and sculptures. Ranging from doodles to stacks of boxes and chairs (all arranged in size order of course)
Image taken from http://capsuleshow.com/post/international-art-listings?from=tag:moma
There were a number of single colour pictures here, many made using marker pens. They reminded us of the problem that you always encounter when using felt tips and trying to colour in a large space. There is always an overlap which creates lines and patches of darker colour. A particular favorite was a series of ‘colouring’s’ in room 4 where it would seem that Creed raided a stationary cupboard of its highlighters and tested each one out on a piece of A4 paper, covering the entire surface with lines. Bold, yet brilliant.
Back in room 2 a man was sat at a piano, pressing each key in turn, running up and down the scale.
We ascended the stairs only to be confronted by a wall of broccoli prints. Over 1000 each in a different colour.
Work No 1000: 1,000 prints made with broccoli. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
According to the Martin Creed A-Z that we were handed as we walked in ‘Creed made his first broccoli print as the cover for a vinyl record. Realising that his favorite vegetable is the size of a seven inch single, he decided to cut in half and make an image’. Although not just one…. it became 1,000 – he made one with each different paint that he could find.
The upper galleries also contained some external work on the terraces.
Terrace A) Work 1029. As I passed through the gallery doors onto the outside terrace I was not expecting to be faced with a large-scale projection of a penis slowly erecting and then collapsing. My friend and I, mostly out of shock, had a good giggle but then it became a bit awkward as we were joined by strangers on the terrace – we didn’t know where to look at that point!
Terrace B) Work 1812. A large brick wall made with an array of colored bricks arranged in stripes. Probably better appreciated back in the gallery when viewed through work 990: A curtain opening and closing. The outside world becomes slowly revealed but the view is obscured by a great big brick wall.
Terrace C) Work no: 1686. A Ford Focus car parked with doors shut and engine off. Every few minutes the car comes to life: the doors open ,the engine turns on, the windscreen wipers sweep,the headlights flash, the radio blares. Then it all stops! And repeat.
We were joined on the terrace by a very jolly man who found the whole set up extremely amusing. He had just come from the Paul Klee exhibition at the Tate and (in his words) found it a little bit pretentious compared to this.
Perhaps my favorite piece was work 22: Half the Air in a given space.
Here was a room where half the air is contained in balloons – the visitor was invited to enter and experience the playful yet claustrophobic space. Personally, I didn’t feel the claustrophobia, however I did come out with very big hair due to the static!
As we came out of the balloon room we went back into gallery 5 where there is a piano installation that is set up to go off every 15 minutes. With a few minutes to spare until the piano was activated we got chatting to the security guard. he couldn’t help but draw our attention to Creed’s work no. 79: Some blu-tack kneaded, rolled into a ball, and depressed against a wall (1993). ‘Have you seen that?’ he said, ‘yes’ we replied, ‘isn’t it brilliant!’. He laughed and then activated the piano (work no: 569) to slowly open the piano lids and then slam them shut again. The lady stood next to us was worried about the damage such slamming would inflict on the piano and quickly hurried away. We watched it slam down a couple more times and then headed down the stairs to watch ‘sick and shit’.
Image taken from: http://martincreed.com/site/works/work-no-569
So from pieces of paper torn up, crumpled, rolled into a ball, folded and flattened out, to an array of items ranging from cacti to industrial nails arranged in order of size, things piled on top of each other and the exploration of bodily functions, this exhibition really does leave you with the question – what exactly is art?
The fact that my friend and I set out to to see a musical, but spent the best part of the way home talking about this exhibition, speaks volumes.
Whether you class it as art or not, in my eyes Martin Creed is an absolute genius.