Sunday, 11 October 2015

Matt Collishaw - The New Art Gallery, Walsall

Matt Collishaw, Insecticide 24, 2006
Matt Collishaw is at The New Art Gallery, Walsall until 10 January 2016.
This is a terrific exhibition in a very fine gallery.
Matt Collishaw is an artist who works in a variety of mediums, employing whatever means most effectively manifests his generally rather dark and disturbing vision. This exhibition includes dark and intense photographs, sculptures, videos and a jaw-dropping zoetrope featuring 300 3D printed resin models. The whole exhibition is beautifully installed and lit.
The earliest work is a black and white photograph Narcissus (1990) showing the artist, cable-release in hand, lying in an urban street staring at his reflection in a muddy puddle. This witty reworking of a classical theme sets the precedent for his sustained, intelligent engagement with the history of art. Last Meal on Death Row is a series of rich still life photographs which have the gravitas of C17 Dutch vanitas paintings; the deeply disturbing Children of a Lesser God revisits the theme of Romulus and Remus in a photograph of two naked babies on an old sofa accompanied by two large dogs - one child sprawls contentedly while the other appears to suckle on one of the animals. Albrecht Durer is revisted in the beautiful and transfixing Whispering Weeds in which grasses gently sway in the breeze and water ripples. The Insecticide series presents enormous images of squashed butterflies which appear like cosmic explosions; For Your Eyes Only is a tryptych video of a pole dancer - images and soundtrack slowed - with the appearance of an altar piece.  
All of the above - and more - is excellent. However, the pièce de résistance is All Things Fall: a circular domed building containing some 300 figures representing the Massacre of the Innocents. This object begins to rotate: when it hits full speed, stroboscopic lights kick in and the figures suddenly come alive! Babies are tossed in the air as the infanticide is enacted - it is a sight that is both horrific and grimly hilarious. The magic spectacle of the bodies coming alive before your eyes is pure delight. This, alone, is worth a trip to Walsall. (Watch a video of the zoetrope in action here.) Read reviews of the exhibition by Waldemar Januszczak, Louisa Buck and Jonathan Jones. Click on images to enlarge.

This was my first visit to the New Art Gallery in Walsall - though it has now been open for 15 years! - and what a fine building it is. Designed by Caruso St John (who have also designed Damien Hirst's Newport Street Gallery - opened this week (8 Oct. 2015) and to be visited shortly) it is an impressively solid and generously spaced gallery.
Matt Collishaw, Narcissus, 1990
Matt Collishaw, Last Meal on Death Row: Bernard Amos (detail), 2011
Matt Collishaw, Last Meal on Death Row: Gary Miller (detail), 2011
Matt Collishaw, Children of a Lesser God, 2007
Matt Collishaw, Whispering Weeds, 2011 (View moving version here)
Matt Collishaw, For Your Eyes Only, 2010 (View video here)
Matt Collishaw, Insecticide 13, 2006
Matt Collishaw, All Things Fall, 2014 (View video here)
Caruso St John (architects), The New Art Gallery, Walsall - opened 2000

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