‘You are deeply aware that you are trapped in a nameless system’: Pumping (2019) by Eva Fàbregas at the Hayward Gallery.Photo: Jo Underhill/Courtesy of the Hayward Gallery
A riot, a journey, an ever-changing adventure: the new spring show at the Hayward Gallery is a stunner from start to finish. Beautifully curated by Ralph Rugoff, gallery director, with the theme of sculpture from the past 60 years. But nothing rigid, geometric or mysterious, nothing stationary in bronze or sculpted marble – everything here comes loose, escapes convention, lively and often literally restless.
Clouds of sparkling white foam descend almost imperceptibly along the wall, emanating from French artist Michel Blazy’s intricate device for conjuring cumulus clouds, peaks and spirals. Blow gently and the lowest clouds tremble. Dancing up and down, from high above, white silk parachutes open and close like fast-blooming flowers in an enchanting kinetic ballet by the Dutch duo Studio Drift.
Flick your fingers through American sculptor Tara Donovan’s gleaming molecular forms, which multiply to fill an entire gallery, and these mysterious dark orbs rustle and flutter, revealing the disks of cheap Mylar they’re made of—the everyday wonder of DNA and of sculpture.
No theory has been advanced, or even distorted, to connect all 21 artists When forms come to life. It’s all in the title. Everything here comes to life and moves from one incarnation to another.
Here is a thin strip of Alaskan cedar, shaped into an eloquent curl and then straightened into a graceful teardrop, by the great American sculptor Martin Puryear. At least that’s how it looks from the side. Stand right in front of it and the image dissolves into one beautiful line. Look at the wall-mounted works of Iranian-born artist Nairy Baghramian, in polished wood and aluminum, and they turn lines into sculptures. A calligraphy of bright lines transforms into fish bones, vertebrae, rib cages and even calipers, evoking all kinds of creatures.
What could you do with the humble things you love and can’t bear to throw away? Seoul-based sculptor Choi Jeong-hwa builds dizzying towers from lime green and deep red plastic baskets from the local market, stunning columns here beautifully doubled in the reflective walls surrounding them. He makes Sputniks from rusty nails, and Korean mountain altars, reaching to the sky, from goat horns, gas rings, shells and pan handles. Choi calls these assemblages “holobionts” – each its own microcosm of symbiotic organisms.
The judgment, delicacy and old-fashioned craftsmanship of this art are evident throughout the Hayward exhibition, even in sculptures made from stranger substances. French artist Marguerite Humeau works with beeswax, walnut wood and microcrystalline wax to create a tree that grows into clusters of layered honeycombs and spreads flat like water lilies or giant pale chrysanthemums. Bury your nose deep and the smell is overwhelming. An ambient buzz (basically the eerie sounds of a saxophone) seems to emanate from the translucent beads that land on the top layers, each containing a wasp’s venom within their honey-gold interior. Something will die (maybe us) and something will survive (maybe the bees, not us). Humeau’s art feels both ancient and ultra-modern.
Sound, speed, movement, smell, taste, vision, memory, touch: these sculptures reach through and beyond the senses
With this exhibition, Rugoff has single-handedly revived the fading reputation of French art. An entire gallery of small sculptures by Jean-Luc Moulène, casually placed on tables near kitchen islands, combines form, word and idea with late-blooming surrealist humor. An iron barbell turns into an uncoiling spring, and the term dolt immediately comes to mind. The head of the hairdryer flows with dark blue tentacles, the molten movement stiffening into hard plastic; Meduse is the witty title.
A fantastic roller coaster by LA artist EJ Hill consists of a wooden construction with pink neon lighting that makes your attention – and your physical imagination – irresistibly fly and accelerate around the winding road in the impending darkness. Barcelona-born Eva Fàbregas’ gigantic tangle of pink intestines, or are they canals, or are they umbilical cords, loop around and around an entire gallery to the pump of electronic music; you can almost squeeze through it, deeply aware that you are trapped in a nameless system.
Sound, speed, movement, smell, taste, vision, memory, touch: these sculptures reach through and beyond the senses. There is a wonderfully strange work here by Polish artist Olaf Brzeski that, he says, evokes the experience “of a person dreaming peacefully and at the same time igniting.” A sooty wall erupts into a sinister black cloud that shoots straight through the gallery space. Dream versus reality took place here in the transition from two to three dimensions.
This is a great show. The lyrics speak directly to the art with an eloquent eloquence. The pace is perfect, there is enough space between one work and the surprise of the next, and there is enough room for each image to express itself. The selection is so judicious that in just a few works you can get the best of great figures like Franz West or Phyllida Barlow.
And the exhibition itself is suitably restless about what a sculpture can be, constantly passing over all kinds of questions and qualities: shiny or matte, moving or motionless, rising, falling, translucent or squat, speechless or articulate, frightening or comic or tender . It allows you to see yourself moving among the reflections, to sense the relationship between space and sculpture, to consider your own small being in relation to art that can be vast (or minute) in time and place, and that is always unnerving is. with life.
Beyond form, at the Turner Contemporary, Margate, is unfortunately the exact opposite of When Forms Come Alive. An object lesson, so to speak, is in the overlap between the two shows. Japanese-American sculptor Ruth Asawa’s intricate wire constructions look as they do at the Hayward: ethereal drawings twisting in and out of three dimensions in the air; at Margate they look like lampshades hanging too close to the ceiling. This misguided and poorly lit hodgepodge doesn’t even have the courage to put forward its selling point: two decades of abstract art by women – in the title.
The period 1950-70 was a wonderful era. Here are the tragic curved shapes of Louise Bourgeois on the floor under the hanging white of the Slovak artist Maria Bartusová Drop – liquid, light and hanging egg in one; The shiny semi-abstract landscapes of the Romanian-born New Yorker Hedda Sterne and the refined and poetic hard abstractions of the Cuban painter Carmen Herrera. Mary Martin’s epigrammatic constructions in wood and steel, small-scale and very British, are as balanced as the large, rough wool works of the American Sheila Hicks are exuberant. There are round shapes of steel and plexiglass, terracotta vessels with seductive openings by Hannah Wilke and a number of extremely precise tapestries, warp and weft inflected like minimalist drawings, by her compatriot Lenore Tawney.
Anyone willing to make the effort may find revelations in the jostling crowd – especially the Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi – but there is so little sense of the art here that a beautiful Louise Nevelson relief structure is parked behind a door like an old wardrobe , and you can’t see Agnes Martin’s delicate, vibrant grids Morning behind the glass for the glow of reflections.
Every show with Eva Hesse’s Addendum is worth the journey – that row of discs on the wall, like mouths, or birds, singing their hearts out, flowing lines falling in cords to the ground. And there is (too) much more. But all these women – some so forgotten or marginalized – are presented here like a flea market, without space, theme or sympathy, as one thing after another.
Star ratings (out of five)
When forms come to life ★★★★★
Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction, 1950-70 ★★★