Martin Creed: he turned the lights on and off and won the Turner Prize in 2001. He crumpled a sheet of plain A4 paper into a ball and exhibited it as Work No. 88. He filmed people being sick in a pristine, anonymous white room which people watched with the usual furrowed brow and stoic "gallery face." He has a new solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Coppermill in East London. He's done his usual stuff. And he's even better than ever.
Creed's work consistently teeters on the edge of "Are you taking the total piss?" minimalism and laugh out loud absurdity. This solo show is the last of three exhibitions to be held at Hauser & Wirth Coppermill - the site is going to be redeveloped this year. The last one was the jaw-dropping Simply Botiful which had us entering a dodgy hotel, going in and out of shipping containers, climbing into a bottomless chest freezer, down the side of a lorry and around a shop selling fridges. It's less cluttered for Creed, with fewer opportunities to get trapped in a battered caravan full of discarded photos and broken PC monitors.
Creed's exhibition features only eight new works in eight different forms of media. There's a big plywood sculpture sitting awkwardly near the entrance into the gallery space, a video clip of an erect penis penetrating a woman from behind that is played intermittently on a big screen, a huge steel i-beam structure that looks like it fell off the gallery's ceiling and one of Creed's familiar flashing neon signs on a back wall. Stripes of black paint on a white wall, a row of nails, an incongruously conventional painting of a smiling woman and a ceaseless playing of single notes on a sliding scale on an upright piano by a weary gallery assistant makes up the rest of the show.
It can be viewed in under half an hour - but we wanted to linger and spend some time among these curious, suggestive things. It felt like there was a joke we had half-heard over the sound of the piano, some sly activity that we glimpsed in the slow flashes of the neon light that reads "Friends"... if we spent long enough among the artworks, perhaps we would be allowed to know the punchline. Rather than frustrating and alienating us, which happens with so many other modern artists, it is the sheer audacity of Creed tha saves us from feeling resentful. His invitation to be complicit and curious is in all his work and is best experienced in a solo show, without the influence of other artists.
The mixture of live performance, moving image, static sculpture, minimalist installation and conventional painting gives visitors a lot to think about and experience without overwhelming us - it's the essence of minimalism in the design and compilation of the exhibition itself, not just the artworks. Creed is a cheeky chap, making us hate him in print (the lights go on and off... what, is that all?) but love him when we're in the presence of his work.
Flicking through an essay on his work left in the lobby area of the gallery before leaving the exhibition, we grinned involuntarily when we spotted a full page colour photo of the grand portico to a gallery in Europe with one of Creed's neon word displays sitting brightly and incongruously on top: "Everything is going to be alright." You may not want to believe him, but you do.
Martin Creed at Hauser & Wirth Coppermill, free, until 29 July. For more information on the exhibition, go to the Hauser & Wirth Coppermill website here. For more information on Martin Creed, go to his website here.