(Published on ARTSCLASH)
Let’s just admit it…the National Gallery is dull as fuck. Like the first half of the Tate Britain display we featured last month, its endless rooms in hushed silence full of staid pictures of horses, heraldry and houses are so dry that it’s a surprise that some of the real genius pieces they own (the Leonardos, the Rokeby Venus, one of Monet’s bridges,) don’t catch alight. And whereas this serves in the Tate to make the later work seen amazingly radical in comparison, this is where the NatGal stops, like a senile relative that believes Victoria is still on the throne and looks confused when shops won’t accept their ha’pennies.
This is a situation former YBA Michael Landy (of Art Bin fame, an installation where he asked artists to throw away works they saw as failures into a gigantic skip) has aimed to rectify with his NatGal installation ‘Saints Alive’, featuring sculptures made up of bits of the various Saints in the gallery’s collections, which endlessly enact their various violent ends through a system of cogs and wheels so they’re somewhere between holy relics and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
However, no static image can fully convey these mad martyrs, so here’s a video showing St Thomas in action (skip to 33s):
In the accompanying video to the installation, Landy says he had two aims: to bring some fun to the gallery (which he famously said he’d never visited) and to makes these saints, who would’ve have been instantly familiar to everyone at a certain point in time, memorable for today. And if we judge this exhibit on those aims then it’s a roaring success. Who will forget Saint Jerome, who would punish himself for impure thoughts by hitting himself with a rock when they actually seen the eight foot Steampunk Saint physically beating itself with an almighty (pun intended) thud perfectly designed to break the reserved silence of the NatGal? If you like your art with a little wit (more David Shrigley then Donnatello) then this is a must-see, particularly Landy’s version of St Catherine’s wheel turned wheel of fortune, which when turns issues out your saintly fate: apparently I am going to die a virgin. Which is nice.
That said, apart from the humour and fun of the exhibition (which, seeing as it’s a free show is probably enough…) there isn’t really much meaning. Sure, the saints are more memorable, but for entirely the wrong reasons. This is religion for our ironic age, something a bit silly to be poked fun of.
Not that we didn’t learn all of 5 things there…