Unsettling Art By Miroslaw Balka

Miroslaw Balka is best remembered for his 2009 installation in the Tate Modern turbine hall, where visitors were invited to step inside a pitch black shipping container and fumble around trying not to walk into each other. His latest exhibition is spread across both the White Cube and Freud Museum, and  features art that references the Second World War and — on an individual note — Sigmund Freud’s flight from Vienna in 1938.

Two works appear in both venues, an eight metre tall flailing tower powered by an air blower* and speakers playing the whistled theme of the Great Escape. These works feel frivolous and a difficult fit to convey the horrors of the war.

The site-specific installations are much more effective, such as the room full of plywood crates at the Freud Museum. They stand in an empty room as though coffins waiting to be filled, and their tie-in to an historic request for materials at a concentration camp makes the work all the more poignant.

The usually cavernous basement gallery of the White Cube, meanwhile, has been broken up by placing a chain link fence horizontally across the entire gallery at just above head height. Despite the fact that visitors can see through the many gaps in the fence, it transforms the space into a claustrophobic setting, and visitors will experience a taster of imprisonment.

The two exhibitions contain some challenging works, and demonstrate that Balka is at his most effective when producing large-scale installation.

Miroslaw Balka: Die Tramdeutung 25, 31m AMSL is on at White Cube, 25-26 Mason’s Yard, SW1Y 6BU until 31 May & Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, NW3 5SX until 25 May. Admission to White Cube is free & Freud Museum is £6 for adults. 

* The tower outside the Freud Museum has been removed due to complaints about the noise from neighbours.

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