Art

Like Art: Martin Creed’s ‘The Back Door’ at the Park Avenue Armory

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The problem with the supposedly notorious work of British artist Martin Creed is how badly it
wants to be “liked.” His sculptures,
installations, and interventions appear simple, like works of Minimalism,
prioritizing ideas over craft and execution, like Conceptualism. Some of his paintings
look like Jackson Pollocks, others like Philip Gustons. His videos are sometimes like music videos that feature his songs, which are a little like pop, a little like punk. His blockbuster exhibition at the Park
Avenue Armory is like an anti-blockbuster — against the richness and glitz of spectacle, in favor of breezy, slight-of-hand
gestures dedicated to that dutifully dissenting question: What is art? A genteel bad boy, a virtuoso of tidied-up transgression, Creed is like an anti-artist, presenting as naughty though ultimately playing nice.

Creed transforms the entire first floor of the Armory into a kind of funhouse tricked out with a survey of his work:
This includes a room half-full of oversize white balloons, a pair of giant black
curtains that whoosh open and closed of their own accord, a door that does the same, and a wandering band of musicians performing songs from his forthcoming album, Thoughts Lined Up. You can see
his scandalously thin Work No. 227: The lights going on and off, for which he had the lights turn on and off every five
seconds in an empty gallery at the Tate Britain — and which caused a stir when
it won the 2001 Turner Prize. (One woman lobbed eggs at the museum’s
walls in protest.)

The Armory exhibit also brings
together all of his moving-image works
to date and features a new commission
in its massive drill hall: a screening of six slow-motion videos of women opening their mouths to reveal the food they’re eating. Between each video, the screen cuts to black and the roll gate of the
Armory opens and shuts, letting sunlight into the cavernous space while giving us
a momentary glimpse of the street life
outside. There’s a certain loveliness to this display — the way the maw of the Armory mirrors the women’s mouths, how the light momentarily washes across the floor — but the idea isn’t strong enough (nor its execution impressive enough) to hold one’s interest or attention for very long.

In a recent interview in Modern
Painters
, the 47-year-old artist said, “I worry about a lot of what is called art — and the things I try to do, I wouldn’t
necessarily call art; it’s basically a little wank, in my opinion — and people who get called artists are people who have
such an extraordinarily high opinion of their shit.” Wank or shit, either would be
a sight to see, but Creed’s work is far too risk-averse, too twee, too art-world-centric to actually be what it declares
it is. Example: His video in which a woman shits on the floor is captured in
a medium-wide shot, giving a polite,
relatively unobtrusive view of the action. The white stage on which she squats
cleverly suggests the clean white walls
of an art gallery, but to what end? Of
the tiny nuggets of dung she strains to push out, you might think, That’s it?
That’s all there is?
A metaphor, let’s say,
for how Creed’s output promises the
outrageous — the infantile, the essential — but invariably leaves you wanting more.

Martin Creed: ‘The Back Door’

Thompson Arts Center at Park Avenue Armory

643 Park Avenue

212-616-3930, armoryonpark.org

Through August 7

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