The Hayward Gallery is known for pushing the boundaries of art with some impressive exhibitions around light art, the art of the invisible and the recent retrospective of the often irreverent Martin Creed. So it may seem strange for the gallery to pick a topic as traditional as figurative sculpture for its latest show, but it’s a wise choice as representative art is making a comeback.
The list of participating artists is a veritable who’s who of the contemporary art world including the en vogue Yinka Shonibare, German sculptor Isa Genzken, Katharina Fritsch whose blue cockerel sits atop the fourth plinth and Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo — a former fourth plinth resident.
Though there are big names on show, the work often doesn’t match up to the billing. Jeff Koons’s bear and policeman is one of his weaker works, and standing between Thomas Schutte’s giant figures would feel more imposing if they were closer together. Rebecca Warren’s sculptures offer nothing new we haven’t seen from her before.
It’s not all bad as Maurizio Cattelan’s wit is evident in his praying boy who turns out to be Hitler and Huma Bhaba’s imposing cyborg sat atop a throne. The star of the show is Ryan Gander’s replicas of Degas’s ballet dancers who have left their plinths, with one peeking out of the window and the other sneaking a cheeky cigarette.
There are enough major names to draw the crowds so it’s a pity some of the floor space wasn’t given to a small selection of emerging artists. Considering the number of major contemporary artists creating sculpture today, a comprehensive survey was always going to be difficult. The artists on display here are a fair representation of the global art market but it’s a shame that only some have high quality work on show.
The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture is on at Hayward Gallery, South Bank, SE1 until 7 September. Tickets are £10.90 for adults, concessions available.