Martin Creed Asks What Is Art At Hayward Gallery

Entering the opening room of this retrospective suggests that this is not going to be your typical exhibition. After squeezing past a sofa blocking the door we’re confronted by a giant neon sign saying ‘mothers’ rotating over our head. It feels dangerously low and most visitors instinctively duck but it just swings over head height like the oppressive hovering matriarch it represents. All the while numerous metronomes tick in asynchronicity with a cacophony akin to a colony of mechanical frogs.

The show then takes us on a rollercoaster of varied work including a scrunched up piece of paper, a pyramid of toilet rolls and a video of people force vomiting and defecating. Duchamp claimed a urinal could be art simply by placing it in a gallery and Warhol took this a step further by claiming a plinth he had once stood on was art. Martin Creed is following in their footsteps and trying to build on their post-modern legacy by re-iterating the ‘anything can be art’ message, but with a knowing humour.

The difficulty is that many of his works repeat this theme of ‘what constitutes art’ ad nauseam, so his stacks of objects and simplistic paintings fail to impress. Creed’s saving grace is that, walking through this exhibition, we never got the feeling he takes himself or his work too seriously and this makes for a more enjoyable experience.

A particularly effective installation is a room filled with white balloons that starts off feeling very claustrophobic but becomes more enjoyable once you get used to it.  There’s also a folding screen that reveals itself to have nothing behind it and simply a piece of blu tack pressed against the wall.

This exhibition abounds with self-referential humour and visitors will either find the whole concept of ‘satirising the satirical’ to be a bit too much or they’ll enjoy it for what it is. We fall into the latter camp and found this show to be an immersive and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Martin Creed: what’s the point of it? is on at Hayward Gallery, South Bank until 27 April. Tickets are £11 for adults, concessions available.

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