Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.

The title of Martin Creed’s exhibition is probably a question on many peoples’ lips when they first walk into an exhibition of modern art; ‘What’s the point of it?’. I remember my first experience of walking into the Tate and feeling completely out of place, afraid almost, because the people around me seemed to be seeing something that I couldn’t. However, I eventually realised, many years later, that it is the individual reaction to a work which is important.

All you have to do is look at a work, or in some cases, interact with it, to understand what’s going on. More often than not it is the person, as opposed to the work itself, which is on show. This, to me, is what Martin Creed’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery is all about and it is an exhibition which will certainly provoke some reactions. From the moment you enter you are approached by an overbearing ‘MOTHER’ in neon lights, rotating above you and threatening decapitation. It is an amazing piece merely because of its overpowering size and proximity and it gives a good idea as to the desire of much modern art. Provocation, provocation and, more often than not, more provocation. There are elements of the exhibition which seem a little more dull e.g. a piece of Blue-Tac stuck to a wall and a pile of balls cordoned off by a rope. The basic thinking here is to take something which would normally be overlooked, put it in a gallery and call it art. It is then your job to contemplate it. This is one of the most common conventions used to fill gallery space but it often works well to keep people engaged. The most famous examples of such art came from Warhol with his soup cans and Brillo boxes and artists have been placing everyday objects in galleries ever since.

The best way to approach an exhibition, if you’re finding it difficult to walk around a gallery without thinking ‘I could have done this’ (which I’m sure happens to everyone at some point or another), is to find a piece (like or dislike), think about reasons why you feel the way you do and make notes, then do a little extra research. Have a look at their influences and related artists and find out a little more about their work, where they are from and why they are doing the work they are doing. It eventually pays off, I promise.

One of the beautiful things about modern art, at least for the artist, is the amount of room there is for creativity. You can pretty much get away with anything. However, I do have one grippe and that is the gallery space itself. I hate the distancing from the work and the room for arrogance in many artists’ works. The recent news of Maximo Caminero smashing one of Ai Weiwei’s vases in Florida highlights this flaw in the arts world. I appreciate the annoyance of having your work smashed, however, Ai Weiwei’s initial art statement prior to the exhibition was to smash an ancient vase and paint over several others. Mr Caminero was only interacting with the piece in a similar manner and now faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. There is, and I fear always will be, a divide between artist and viewer, and it is this which has made me uncomfortable. I hope that if I ever use an everyday object in a gallery space and someone damages it I would appreciate their involvement and reinstate it, warts and all.

The gallery is a space where one feels overly obliged to behave, regardless of how playful the work around you might be. However, this is one thing that Martin Creed has been successful in overcoming. One of the rooms in the gallery is filled with balloons and you are invited in to go wild. You can even burst them if you feel so inclined (this comes with a caution because I’m not sure you are supposed to intentionally burst them but at £11 a ticket you’ve paid enough to warrant a few a balloons being burst). What this particular space does is completely dissolve that gap between you and the work and for once you can let go and get involved.

If you are squeamish you might want to close your eyes on the way out as this is where provocation quite possibly oversteps the mark a little unnecessarily. The final piece called Sick is a film which does exactly what it says on the tin. It involves several people vividly staging their body’s functional capabilities in high definition. My reaction to this one was to make my exit, however, if it’s your cup of tea you can always purchase the DVD for a very reasonable £15 from the gift shop.

So ‘What’s the Point of it?’. I’m afraid there is no easy answer because, quite simply, there is no answer. Personally, I like to go to galleries to be inspired and to make discoveries about things I otherwise may never have considered. Most importantly, don’t be put off because you don’t understand something and it seems like others do. The truth is you’re probably seeing something they’re not.  I would highly recommend a visit to Martin Creed’s exhibition as a starting point because it doesn’t have the same pretentions of many other exhibitions I’ve been to. It’s also the first exhibition I’ve been to where the staff seem happy at the reactions of the visitors and visitors have interacted with each other, which makes the fear of others having some secretive insight, evaporate.

 

Martin Creed    What’s the point of it?

Hayward Gallery – Southbank Centre

Wed 29 Jan 2014–Sun 27 Apr 2014