About Life, Death… and other stories. The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

The Hayward Gallery dedicates its Summer exhibition to the art of sculpture with “The Human Factor,” a show exploring new ways of using the figure in contemporary art, until 7th September at Southbank Centre, London.

Jeff Koons, The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

Jeff Koons, Bear and Policeman, from Koons Studio

Twenty-five leading artists guide us in a journey through contemporary sculpture, in a show featuring most of the highlights of the last twenty-five years – among them some well-know pieces shown in exhibitions such as dOCUMENTA or the Venice Biennale, and several artists participating in the Forth Plinth commissions.

Maurizio Cattelan, The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

Maurizio Cattelan, Now, 2004, photo Andrè Morin

A wide selection of work proves how that primeval instinct  – which leads to the representation of the human being, transferring its features on a pliant, durable, tridimensional medium – is still surprisingly up-to-date and well-present in artistic practice nowadays; here and since the dawn of time, we can see the attempt to embed an inert material with rituals, memories but also events from real life, with the aim of consigning it – potentially – to eternity. For contemporary artists the challenge lays now on experimenting new ways to engage with contemporary concerns, marking that line between the body as the living fulcrum of the action – as in performance art – and the paralysis of the sculptured figure, the representation’s core.

Paweł Althamer, The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

Paweł Althamer, Monika and Pawel, detail

At a first gaze, the idea of reinterpretation of earlier movements within the genre of figurative sculpture seems to be the main thread of the exhibition; the ‘Human Statues’ by Frank Benson re-visit the classic models of sculpture with a post-modern attitude, suggestions of an archaic past revive in Schütte’s warriors, while a Minimalistic taste gives shape to Georg Herold’s haggard creatures.

Frank Benson, The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

Frank Benson, Human Statue, 2005

Quotation is indeed a common practice in the show, where we can recognize more than once the unmistakable profile of Degas’ dancers: Ryan Gander’s playful statues yet venture to leave their plinths empty for a cigarette break, or just to stare wondering out the window.

Ryan Gander, The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

Ryan Gander, I don’t blame you

Pierre Huyghe pushes the limits of the medium’s stillness by replacing the head of a reclining art deco nude with a living bee hive; not far away, ‘That Girl’ by Paul McCarthy catches the eye of visitors with its unnerving similitude, engaging with them in a voyeuristic game.

Paul McCarthy, The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

Paul McCarthy, That Girl

The use of the mannequin is widespread among the artists throughout these last two decades: these hyper-real, isolated figures inhabit the gallery’s space like usual dwellers, but some of them can catch the attention more than others. ‘Resistance-Subjecter’, enclosed in glass windows, show under the neon light that stereotype of femininity imposed by the Western consumerist world, a figure that is actually the most common representation of the woman nowadays; Hirschhorn’s women literally corrode this model presenting themselves as an army of modified human beings carrying the evidence of an interior cancer crystallized on their frigid bodies.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

Yinka Shonibare MBE. “Girl Ballerina,” 2007

Certainly more reassuring, the chiaroscuro sculptures by Martin Honert call to mind memories from his childhood, impressed on a black and white photographs, in a poetic translation from a medium to an other.
Presence, absence, objectification, disclosure: the anthropomorphic form reaffirms itself as a rhetorical figure evoking stories which belong not only to the single narrator, but to the whole humanity.

Andro Wekua, Cady Noland, Cathy Wilkes, Frank Benson, George Herold, Huma Bhabha, Isa Genzken, Jeff Koons, John Miller, Katharina Fritsch, Mark Wallinger, Martin Honert, Maurizio Cattelan, Paloma Varga Weisz, Paul McCarthy, Paweł Althamer, Pierre Huyghe, Rachel Harrison, Rebecca Warren, Ryan Gander, Thomas Hirshhorn, Thomas Schutte, Ugo Rondinone, Urs Fisher, Yinka Shonibare MBE. The Human Factor, Hayward Gallery, London, through 7th September 2014

Ryan Gander, The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery

Ryan Gander, Tell my mum not to worry

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by Manu Buttiglione
in Focus on Europe

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