They aren’t exactly members of the aging young Brit brat pack. “We went for a good long time without anyone noticing or buying anything or a decent review. It was good,” says Tim Noble. “There’s nothing worse than people being too nice.” He and Sue Webster materialized here in 2000 at Deitch Projects with a ravishing show: a perverse installation of a few dramatically lit heaps of trash that cast perfect self-portrait silhouettes of the two artists. In thrall to that post-punk enchantment, we hardly noticed the Vegas-style strip-mall signage—all vivid neon, flashy sequenced bulbs, and reflector caps—that’s the flip side of their collaborative work, which packs a double whammy of incorruptible crassness and trashy immaterial magic.
The sparse but impeccable show of five works in five rooms at P.S.1, curated by Klaus Biesenbach, opens with the stark drama of a vast empty gallery bathed in the shifting lavender, blue, or yellow Flavin-esque afterglow of one huge dazzling sign. It spells “Forever.” Beyond, a Neanderthal version of the artist couple, titled The New Barbarians, strides out of a glaring white void, naked apes headed for the evolutionary dustbin.
Dead White Trash (With Gulls), 1998, one of their earliest garbage pieces, is six months’ worth of peanut butter jars, soup cans, and other stuff from their kitchen rubbish can, plus a pair of dead seagulls. That it was the same six months it took to make the piece is more than a cute conceit. “As we were making it, we were eating and consuming,” says Noble. On the wall, the shadow figures of the artists take a break with a cigarette and a glass of wine. Real Life Is Rubbish, a recent work, is constructed from studio trash. “All our old tools,” explains Webster. “I was using a screwdriver, and it made my nose look great, so I used it. So we eventually ran out of tools.”