Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Review of Thomas Houseago: I’ll be your sister and Special Brew at Hauser & Wirth London


03/10/12
Thomas Houseago: I’ll be your sister
Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, North Gallery
and
Thomas Houseago: Special Brew
Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, South Gallery
7 September – 27 October 2012

“A show is a necessary evil,” bemoans Thomas Houseago (born 1972), readily agreeing with his progenitor Constantin Brâncusi (1876-1957) that the best show of an artist’s work is in his studio. Nevertheless, Houseago is currently exhibiting at both Hauser & Wirth galleries in London’s Savile Row, as well as Hauser & Wirth Zürich (which was added at the last moment when it was discovered that there was not enough room for all of his new works in London), and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, an intense undertaking for which he “went through so much fog and mist” and “often regretted taking them on.” The outcome, however, is phenomenal, and I am sure that visitors, who would otherwise not be able to enjoy Houseago’s monumental, terrifying, and yet vulnerable figurative sculptures in his studio, will not leave disappointed.


When Houseago arrived in London for his foundation course back in the early 1990s, he considered himself a performance artist, and this side of his character remains well evidenced in his sculptures to this day. Working typically with low-grade materials such as plaster, hemp, and iron rebar, and leaving gaping holes and rips, so that the internal structure is visible to all, finger prints, fist marks, and shoe prints are also evident across the surface, testament to the creative process. Houseago himself acknowledges the “highly sexual activity” of making a sculpture, which is “a bit like fighting, also, or dancing,” referencing particularly the squeezing of the clay.

At the Hauser & Wirth London shows, visitors can enjoy some of the very best of Houseago’s works. The walls of the south gallery are hung with six reliefs, including Face Panel II (Landscape) (2012), where the features are built up like plasticine sausages, and creases are scraped out by hand; Hands/Feet Panel (Walking Man) (2012), a bronze with giant-sized hands and feet protruding, recalling the marble head, hand, and foot fragments of the colossal statue of Constantine at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome; and Finger Panel I (2012), where the various components appear like large-scale anatomical studies.


From the centre of the floor tower a selection of imposing, free-standing works, including 2 Fingers (2012), one of which is almost as tall as me, and Standing Owl I (2012), with his hollowed out eye socket revealing the interior of the structure, with its iron rebar skeleton, covered, just about, by a rough plaster skin. This anatomical revelation is also apparent in the case of Sleeping Boy I (2012), who lies on his back in a small side room, his face like a skeleton, eyes hollow, and looking altogether flayed, torn muscles and tissues on display. Contrarily, however, the pure white colour of the plaster seems at odds with this sense of violence, clean and serene.


A few doors down, in the north gallery, stand a further six giants. In the window are three penis columns, one of which, Portrait Column I (2012) towers proudly, suggestive of a Swiss Guard. Walking Figure I (City) (2012) picks up on the theme of anatomical studies, taking a close look at the mechanics of movement and the working of joints.

Most impressive, however, is the juxtaposition of the cowering, white plaster Sitting Woman (2012), huddled as if vulnerable and seeking to protect herself (and perhaps, indeed, she is), seated in the shadow of the immense black bronze Striding Figure II (Ghost) (2012), a threatening, dark, and imposing monster, who yet, because of his charred appearance, and the way in which his bare bones need the support of struts from within, is perhaps equally fearful and fragile. The question is suggested: tormentor or tormented?


According to Houseago, the best time to see his shows is at midnight, looking in through the windows, when they are lit up from the street lamps outside and throwing shadows. This may well be a striking sight, but I recommend a visit during opening hours too, to stand below the figures, overlapping your shadow with theirs, and marveling at the contradictions of strength and fragility, power and weakness, pride and vulnerability.


Images:

Thomas Houseago
Installation view, 'I'll be your sister', Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, North Gallery, 2012
© Thomas Houseago
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Alex Delfanne

Thomas Houseago
Installation view, 'Special Brew', Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, South Gallery, 2012
© Thomas Houseago
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Alex Delfanne

Thomas Houseago
Installation view, 'I'll be your sister', Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, North Gallery, 2012
© Thomas Houseago
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Alex Delfanne


Thomas Houseago
Striding Figure II (Ghost)
2012
Bronze
505.5 x 181.6 x 315 cm / 199 x 71 1/2 x 124 in
Installation view, 'I'll be your sister', Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, 2012
© Thomas Houseago
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Alex Delfanne



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