RA Magazine Summer 2013
Issue Number: 119
Preview: Michael Landy at the National Gallery
For his residency at the National Gallery Michael Landy RA has brought to life the martyrs immortalised in its collection. By Richard Cork
Entering the high, spacious studio in the National Gallery where Michael Landy RA has been associate artist in residence since March 2010, I am astonished by the dramatic spectacle greeting me. The floor is strewn with discarded sheets of paper and, on the table, an image of the painting St Peter Martyr (c.1476) by Carlo Crivelli, showing the saint with a sword stuck through his head. Landy has been preparing large-scale kinetic sculptures of martyred saints for his provocative exhibition ‘Saints Alive’. He tells me that ominous noises will echo through the show. What kind of sounds? Landy smiles. ‘There’s going to be low-level thumping, and the loudest noise will be St Jerome beating his breast.’
Landy says that as a student he never came to the National Gallery, and admits ‘we are unlikely bedfellows’. So he embarked on a novice’s voyage of discovery after being offered ‘out-of-the-blue’ a two-year residency.
Michael Landy RA works on a drawing for his sculpture of St Jerome at his National Gallery studio. © Michael Landy/courtesy of the Thomas Dane Gallery, London/Photo The National Gallery, London.
Best known for Break Down (2010), in which he carefully catalogued, then publicly destroyed, all of his possessions, Landy was a bold choice for the National Gallery to make. But his immense drawings on the studio walls show just how fruitful his time there has been.
Cézanne and El Greco are among the artists who inspired Landy’s powerful graphic studies, but the most relevant drawing to his new sculpture is filled with wheels, assembled as if in a graveyard. ‘They’re taken from 32 paintings in the collection,’ explains Landy, who became fascinated above all by old master images of suffering saints. There is St Catherine, condemned to a grisly death on a spiked wheel, and other saints ‘doing dumb things to themselves, like Saint Benedict, who throws himself into a thorn bush and bleeds heavily.’ As well as the sculptures, a selection of collages on paper will show Landy’s working processes. Meanwhile, a timely retrospective of Landy’s drawings is on show at the nearby Thomas Dane gallery.
Video: Michael Landy RA interviewed in his National Gallery studio ahead of the show
Landy’s new sculptures are also inspired by his love of Jean Tinguely, whose work profoundly impressed the 18-year-old student at a Tate exhibition in 1982. ‘Tinguely assembled stuff from junk and set it in motion,’ says Landy, adding, ‘A visitor to my show will be able to press a button on the floor to animate the sculpture.’ Landy responded both to the mechanical element in Tinguely and to his use of scrap materials, as well as the subversive, ever-changing humour in these deliberately dysfunctional machines. He realises that the combination of junk and martyred saints in his National Gallery show will undoubtedly prove controversial, but insists, ‘I hope it doesn’t offend anybody. I’m just animating the saints – making them come to life for a whole new audience.’
Click here to see Michael Landy in his National Gallery studio.
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