Dear Michael Landy,
You turn art upside down.
Cut it up to bits, and then stick them back together;
Add noise, irony and honesty to all things that you make.
And in doing this you create magic.
You make people respect that art concepts are to be destroyed and reconstructed;
That every generation, every new audience would do better to first start with a blank page
And not hold on too fondly to the past.
But still look with a discerning eye on the things gone by.
And as I walked through the National Gallery to the clang, bang and tickety tock of your work
Those ginormous, superhuman beings that have been given the special Landy touch.
I realised that only an artist like you could bring the Saints Alive.
The Saints Alive exhibition is an amazing insight into the genius that is Michael Landy. An artist who was one year senior to Damien Hirst at Goldsmiths College, Landy is most famous for encouraging people to bin art and for destroying all his possessions in an epic work called Break Down in 2001.
In 2009, the National Gallery invited Landy to become the eight Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist – an appointment by invitation only, where a contemporary artist is given studio space within the National Gallery to make new work that connects with the existing collection of the Gallery.
What is very evident in this exhibition is how Landy has married the paintings he found within the National Gallery, with his admiration for the work of Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, famous for his sculptural machines. Just before he started this residency, Landy had co-curated an exhibition Joyous Machines: Michael Landy and Jean Tinguely at Tate Liverpool. And in Saints Alive, Tinguely comes in as the perfect filler to Landy’s poin, albeit with a lot of clang and whirr.
What is particular about Landy’s sculptures is that they are out to destroy themselves as is amply evident. His 9ft Saint Apollonia sculpture that is inspired by Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Saints Genevieve and Apollonia, has pliers in her mouth holding on to a tooth that was pulled out as a form of torture. If you step on the pedal right in front of the sculpture, she smashes the pliers into her mouth again and again.
Landy’s Saint Thomas is an energetic finger poking into the Christ’s torso. The loudest work of all, you’re most like to hear this piece before you see it.
Inspired by Conegliano’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, in this work Landy makes an incredibly emphatic interpretation of an otherwise seemingly innocous painting.
And to avoid limiting himself to one saint alone, Landy presents Multi-Saint, or what you could call the Super Man of Saints. With bits of Saint Peter Martyr who was murdered with an axe blow to his head, Saint Lawrence who was roasted alive on a griddle, Saint Lucy who plucked out her eyes and sent them to an admirer who was praising their beauty, Saint Michael who will call the dead to rise on Judgement Day, and Saint Catherine who was tortured on a wheel, this work is truly majestic. In a horrendously gory way.
Landy has truly outdone himself in this exhibition. And accompanying the sculptures, are some collages and drawings that show his thought process during this project, how he went about combining different depictions of the Saints by various artists in the Gallery’s collection.
This exhibition is a definite must see, and do stay to watch the short interview with Landy they have playing in the gallery. He sits throughout the clip, in easy conversation with the interviewer, with his sagacious dog perched peacefully on his lap. What stands out is the intelligence he wears casually, and endearingly so.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes interview Landy did with Charlotte Higgins in the runup to the exhibition.
I’m a big Landy fan. A BIG one. So go see him make the Saints Alive.