Martin Creed is a winner of the Turner Prize, an internationally recognized mixed-media artist, song writer, commentator on the condition, purveyor of the prurient, thinker-not thinker, and a regarded member of the human predicament, as it were.
Art imitates life but life doesn’t imitate art, the devil is in the details. Or the art is in the juxtaposition; what seems desultory is in fact calculated, systematic. A one-minute-six-second long video of an Asian woman defecating is art—not on its own, I would argue—but because of where and how it exists within the greater construct of exhibition. Anything is art if it is juxtaposed, if there is something nearby to tell you—the viewer—that what you are experiencing at this moment is different than what you experienced the last time you experienced something different than what you experienced just before that. Art is experiential. The lights turn on, the lights turn off. A door opens and closes apparently on its own. The heavy drapes heave shut on unsuspecting guests of the experience. All three of these occur as separate works (numbers 160, 129 and 990, respectively.) What you experience before the Asian woman’s bowel movement is, incidentally, a video of nothing (the screen is black) along with a fast-paced short song, the lyrics of which go like this: FUCK OFF fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK OFF (Work 1358.) This lasts for one-minute-twenty-one-seconds.
But so, Martin Creed is a brilliant by all accounts. Please do not think I am suggesting otherwise. Creed’s installation, The Back Door, at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory—which is simultaneously the greatest assemblage in the United States of his work as well as the largest installation by a single artist at the Armory to date—is brilliant, and it is brilliant (or powerful) because what Creed does is essentially force you, the unsuspecting audience, to become a part of the Experience for others. Though, this is what life does to you, too, then, and so Creed’s ingenuity (or unique approach) is effectively a deeply layered, poignant and remarkably human examination of the structures that inform our existence.
What’s to know is that while on the surface many of Creed’s works may seem playful, dumb or irreverent, the truth is that the inherent comments that Creed makes about humanity through his works are profound and honest portrayals of what it is to be a human, with thoughts and feelings, in this weird world we all live in.
From the moment you enter the Armory (which, by the way, is completely unlike any other art space and is filled with mohogany, dark wood, ornate architecture, and historic artifacts along with gigantic portraits of 19th century army generals) until the moment you leave, your senses (and sensibilities) are provoked. There is the plangent metronome, a roaming troupe of musicians with instruments and a megaphone, the dizzying effect of lights flickering, a leap in your heart when the piano top unexpectedly slams shut; there is repugnance, delight, confusion, sadness, recognition. There is an insane room filled with large white balloons, the experience of which is simultaneously harrowing and FUN! There is a short video featuring two dogs, which I watched three times, and there are two videos that are very pointedly about (and aptly titled) Border Control and Let Them In. There is also Creed’s art in the more traditional sense, paintings and sculptures, and as you traverse the Armory you embark on an almost scavenger-hunt-esque journey through the brilliant, beautiful and shocking body of work of the inimitable Martin Creed. Go to the Armory, experience the experience.
Martin Creed: The Back Door at Park Avenue Armory
June 8 – August 7th, 2016
Writing by Cara S. Vincent