Jim Lambie at Sadie Coles HQ in Kingly St
The art object is not always an object nowadays. But when it is it can be an object in itself, or it can sometimes contain other objects. This is a fairly modern notion: re-presenting an everyday object inside an artwork can suggest many layers of meaning.
What’s that I hear you say, cultured readers? Wasn’t it Marcel Duchamp that originated the use of the ready made back in 1913? Groans. Yes, probably – but he was just being contrary and sarcastic. He had no idea what would come through the floodgates he opened. Since R Mutt’s urinal there have been many more significant and subtle uses of found – or indeed purchased objects. So much so that is almost its own genre at this point.
Jim Lambie’s show sits squarely at the crossroads of this genre. On one hand combining clothes and lamps as formal pictorial and sculptural elements, but on the other using them to suggest something else; abandonment perhaps, like the contents of a discarded suitcase. He is in a tradition both playful, and with an ironical undercurrent. It involves making aesthetic objects from commonplace consumer items. They are not simple readymades – they interact with more plastic elements – canvases and frames, but because they escape the picture plane they take on a sculptural quality, sort of. The hanging and leaning works suggest Morris Louis and John McCracken – both intensely abstract, but hanging these objects from them the work seems more dynamic and engaging as if the world were somehow penetrating the closed bubble of art creation.
The hanging wire pieces also fall into that slightly less satisfactory class of stuff that looks like it should do stuff. It has a machine aesthetic in other words. But imitating the design of functional things in art objects is a strange thing to want to do and it’s a hard trick to pull off. But the other pieces seem fresh and alive – art history and the contemporary world are quietly coming together in them. It’s stimulating rather than life changing, but it is good.
The transmuted object has taken on several guises. The Picasso bull slaps you in the face with pure form, abstracted from two totally familiar objexts. Picasso at once masters and dismisses this whole genre as joky and bafflingly easy. The Surrealists going the other way – including objects for their subliminal associations and playing with them through inappropriate juxtaposition. John’s work playing on the tension of making things that really look like real things, but are clearly just art. Or Tony Cragg using the detritus of the consumer society to represent it. This work sits among these, feeling its way to new uses of the real world in its own representation, maybe the consumer society demands consumer objects in its reflection.
Duchamp did break the ice at the Armory Show. Until that radical moment, art was made just from paint, stone or clay – pro to stuff. Now this seems outdated. We require art that contains plastic quotations of our everyday lives. These have replaced the literary or biblical references of past centuries, we simply cannot understand that language anymore. The trouble is, we are struggling to understand this new one as well.