Martin Creed: First Major Survey A Multi Sensory Fun Fair

With 39 metronomes ticking at every possible speed, a one-note musical symphony, a rainbow of 1000 prints made using broccoli, projections of defecation, vomiting, and erections, you certainly can’t lambaste Martin Creed for a lack of variety – at least in form. This exhibition – that fills the whole of the spacious Hayward Gallery – is a multi-sensory fun fair, and the first major survey of the 2001 Turner Prize winner’s career.

Unknown, alien objects disorientate you from your very first steps: once you’ve navigated past the dog-eared sofa that curiously blocks the entrance, Work No.1092 (2011) hurtles worryingly close above your head (or for taller visitors, could well threaten decapitation). It’s exciting, but witty too – the 12-metre long neon sign , spelling ‘Mothers’, dwarfs you and ruffles your hair. What a way to show the significance of the maternal presence in life.

Much found here is playful, and thought-provoking, while at times like the whimsy of Grayson Perry and Jeremy Deller. You’ll find his famous Work 1813 The lights Going on and off, paintings that he has does blind, tongue-in-cheek neon slogans, while Work No. 200 ‘Half the air in a given space’ (2004) sees half of the air in a room is contained by balloons. The title is high-concept – something that comes with the YBA territory – but the experience is a riotous and chaotic dose of entertainment.

Detractors may argue that Creed is modern art’s high-horse at its worst, but they miss the point: he wants us to stop thinking, and enjoy the moment. But that doesn’t stop him from playfully teasing them. Work no. 1812 (2014) is a monumental wall constructed from 80 different types of material, and perhaps a nod to how the artist has torn down most of the walls in the newly open-plan Hayward. Is Creed highlighting the phallogocentrism of modern architecture, or is it just a stack of bricks? Is he pointing out the relative insignificance and ephemerality of humanity, or mocking the seriousness of it all? Things go up, and then come down (much like the penis in Work No.1029).

The impressively creates a minimalism that is provocative. Work No.88 (1995) is a case in point: a scrunched-up paper ball that merits its own glass case. To elicit such indignation from a commonplace object is quite an achievement, but that doesn’t prevent the idea from being occasionally vexing as the similar Work No.309 (2003), a torn up piece of A4 paper, shows.
The issue with regularly positing the meaningless of life through art – the inevitability of solipsism et al – is that there is rarely any nuance, or subtlety in the message. That’s not to say this message can’t be represented in a definitive, exhaustive range of ways (over 160 works are to be found here, even in the toilet). But ultimately, its all the same concept that Marcel Duchamp so controversially flushed out a century ago. Though perhaps rather than a statement, ‘What’s the Point of It?’ is a mode of self-questioning by Creed, and the ball is in your court.

 Depending on your mood and taste, this exhibition could either seem like a vivid, stimulating world that teems with ideas, or an infuriating nightmare. I lean towards the former. The key is maybe found in Work No. 299 (2003), a self-portrait of the man from Wakefield, with a testing grin across his face. His expression is sincere, but puckish. Creed doesn’t care if you hate his work – in fact, he’ll laugh about it if you do. It’s better to play along, and enjoy the ride. What’s the point of it? Stop asking.

Words: Peter Yeung © Artlyst 2014

Martin Creed: “What’s the point of it?” at Hayward Gallery (29 January – 5 May 2014)