25 contemporary artists who have explored the human form in sculpture over the past 25 years are gathered at the Hayward Gallery for the show ‘The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture’. I was impressed by the exhibition’s relevance, despite its violence, the realism of certain works, the surprise elements (good and bad) that come into play as the sculptures are viewed from different angles, and the diversity of materials used.
Exploring the first/main room of the exhibition, I was struck by the dominant theme of the injured and damaged human figure that appeared to preoccupy this group of contemporary artists. I saw human “bodies” hanging from the ceiling, left bare naked on the floor, lamenting, begging, and being eviscerated. I say human bodies because most artists in the show focus on realism. Several of the sculptures are close to human scale – even made from human casts which became increasingly unsettling. Other artists represent human shapes in a more abstract way; for instance, using wood pieces to recreate the human body.
The other particularity of the show was the diversity of materials, showing that contemporary artists tend to shy away from traditional materials, such as bronze and marble. Some of the exhibits are made from wood, wax, even animal intestines and straw. No pictures were allowed. (This didn’t bother me, except when the occasional security guard came towards me when I took out my phone to take notes!) However, to compensate, visitors can get close to most sculptures and feel part of the installation. This is important as some sculptures look different from various angles – even revealing another figure! The visitor will also be shocked by what he/she sees on the other side…
Of the 25 artists contributing to the show, I approached Shonibare’s ballet dancer with little expectation or interest; in my mind, just another figure covered with African-like tissues. However, she hides a gun behind her back. Hearing the artist speak about his global warming work made his pieces more interest-worthy too. Follow Ryan Gander’s Degas ballerina escape (no spoiler)… Thomas Hirschhorn is another artist well-represented in the show. I saw his work recently at Palais de Tokyo but would not have recognised his work at this show if I hadn’t been informed.
The exhibition is curated by Hayward Gallery Director Ralph Rugoff – also curator of the Biennale de Lyon 2015. His selection worked perfectly, albeit I may have added Berlinde de Bruyckere, Ron Mueck and removed Jeff Koons. The list of 25 contributing artists is as follows: Pawel Althamer, Frank Benson, Huma Bhabha, Maurizio Cattelan, Urs Fischer, Katharina Fritsch, Ryan Gander, Isa Genzken, Rachel Harrison, Georg Herold, Thomas Hirschhorn, Martin Honert, Pierre Huyghe, Jeff Koons, Paul McCarthy, John Miller, Cady Noland, Ugo Rondinone, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Thomas Schütte, Paloma Varga Weisz, Mark Wallinger, Rebecca Warren, Andro Wekua and Cathy Wilkes. ‘The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture’ runs until Sunday 7 September 2014.