Saints Come To Life In An Interactive Exhibition At The National Gallery

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 59 months ago
Saints Come To Life In An Interactive Exhibition At The National Gallery
Mixed Media  310 x 245 x 106 cm
Michael Landy Saint Jerome, 2012 Duerckheim Collection © Michael Landy, courtesy of the Thomas Dane Gallery, London / Photo: The National Gallery, London
mixed media 205 x 185 x 80 cm
Michael Landy Doubting Thomas, 2013 Michael Landy, courtesy of the Thomas Dane Gallery, London © Michael Landy, courtesy of the Thomas Dane Gallery, London / Photo: The National Gallery, London
mixed media 371 x 440 x 84 cm
Michael Landy Spin the Saint Catherine Wheel and Win the Crown of Martyrdom, 2013 Michael Landy, courtesy of the Thomas Dane Gallery, London © Michael Landy, courtesy of the Thomas Dane Gallery, London / Photo: The National Gallery, London
Stitched Panorama  oil on canvas  65 x 81.3 cm
Frame 83.2 x 99.2 cm
Claude-Oscar Monet The Church at Varengeville, 1882 The Trustees of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham (38.7) © Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham
Stitched Panorama   oil on canvas  75.5 x 99.7 cm
Frame 109.6 x 131.8 cm
Nicolas Poussin Tancred and Erminia, about 1634 The Trustees of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham (38.9) © Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham
oil on canvas 69.2 x 101.6 cm
Frame 01.5 x 124.4 cm
Joseph Mallord William Turner The Sun rising through Vapour, about 1809 The Trustees of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham © Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

Michael Landy was always seen as an odd choice for an artist in residence at the National Gallery. Landy is famously known for his piece of performance art where he destroyed all of his possessions over the space of two weeks. So to place him in a gallery whose focus is the preservation of art was always going to produce interesting and unpredictable outcomes.

Landy has been inspired by the gallery's works, particularly the paintings of saints and has produced a series of contemporary drawings and sculptures that reflect his take on their stories. Many Christian saints met terrible ends but it's easy to look at the ornately framed masterpieces in the National Gallery and forget about the pain and torture they depict - Landy brings this reality home quite literally with a bang.

Saint Jerome is said to have beaten himself to repress his sexual urges; press a foot pedal and Landy's kinetic homage repeatedly bashes its chest with a rock.  There's also a brutality in the representation of Saint Apollonia as she jams a pair of pliers into her mouth to extract a tooth - this being one of the tortures she was said to have endured.

His drawings are interesting experimentations on the saintly theme but it's his six kinetic sculptures that are the main draw. They are interactive, noisy and less than reverential - at odds with everything we've come to expect from the National Gallery. And that's what makes them so refreshingly entertaining.

Another exhibition at the National Gallery marks the 80th anniversary of the Barber Institute in Birmingham with a loan of the its founding paintings. The two highlights are Poussin's emotive painting capturing the death of Tancred and a Monet sunset so vivid it's as if you were there with him as he painted.

Both exhibitions are on at the National Gallery. Michael Landy: Saints Alive until 24 November and Birth of a collection: Masterpieces from the Barber Institute of Fine Arts until 1 September. Admission to both is free.

Last Updated 23 May 2013