Contemporary art is hard. Some people find it impossible. Martin Creed creates and curates improbable works of art and related experiences. His artwork isn’t necessarily difficult but it could be considered hard to see. That’s simply because many of his works’ constituent parts are familiar objects and events like lamps, dogs, and light.
“I think that the best things get under people’s skin, make them remember them. People aren’t stupid. They know what’s fake and what’s not. They respond to things. Art is just things in the world, usually an arrangement of color and shapes. It’s people who have the feelings and the reactions,” Creed explained during an interview.
Work No. 312 A lamp going on and off is only going to be seen as an artwork if you’re in a gallery or a museum. If it were in your living room it would be a broken lamp—since the light is on for one second and then off for one second.
This work has presence in the large exhibit spaces offered by galleries and museums. It’s a stupendous sculpture. It’s incredibly stupid. The exhibition space acts as a set of brackets for an ordinary object repeating a mundane function. The lamp is “altered” in the exhibition space. Creed uses his hands as signifiers to reframe the condition of an ordinary lamp doing what it does ordinarily, by doing so, reveals the extraordinary.
Living things are part of Creed’s work. Placing living things in unexpected contexts is a familiar trope and delightfully realized in Work No. 591: Two Dogs, Orson & Sparkle. The largest and smallest dogs he could find locally at the time of his exhibition were installed in the gallery to wander as they chose. The presence of the pets challenges the context of the exhibition space, introducing elements of home, surprise, and play.
“I think art is anything that people collectively think is art. That’s what art is. In other words it’s like a kind of very different opinion. It’s like love. It’s like magic. You can’t really pin it down,” Creed says during an interview at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2014.
It’s possible to experience a bit of Creed’s magic this summer at The Henry Gallery in Seattle, WA and their installation of his Work No. 360: Half the air in a given space. Wandering within one of Creed’s altered spaces is a rewarding way to spend a summer afternoon.