Martin Creed asks What's the Point of It? at the Hayward Gallery

By Ben Miller | 29 January 2014

Exhibition Review: Martin Creed - What's the Point of It?, Hayward Gallery, London, until April 27 2014

A photo of two women enjoying themselves in a room crammed with white balloons
Martin Creed, Work no. 200. What's the Point of it, Hayward Gallery (2014). Installation view© Photo: Linda Nylind
Trying to make sense of the world through Martin Creed's eyes can be a bizarre experience. Sometimes, if you look up, there's a gouache portrait the terminally unsure artist himself had to jump to create. At others - Something on the left, just as you come in, not too high or too Low, as he titles it, trying to be precise with a name amid walls full of works assigned only numbers - it leads to a curt invitation to "f*** off", inked in small letters on lined paper.

A photo of a painting showing five decreasing blocks on top of each other in different colours
Martin Creed, Work No. 1315 (2011)© Martin Creed, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne
On one roof a Ford Focus sporadically sounds its horn, opens its doors and blares out Radio 4 with the mechanical fanfare of an over-elaborate alarm clock (the other roof, overlooking the Royal Festival Hall, features a portrait screen showing a phallus which repeatedly rises and falls, hardening and drooping between a pair of legs).

At the very least, Creed - an intrigued attendee of psychoanalysts, if not one who heeds their advice to create nothing during moments of uncertainty, as one shrink suggested to him - ensures order. By the time you have seen empty boxes of electrical appliances and water piled into a triangle of discard, or a gradually shortening horizon of cacti, or a set of 2.5cm squares of cut Elastoplast tape stacked on top of each other (Work no 78, from 1993) the neatness has taken on a maddening rigour.

A photo of a line-up of cacti inside a gallery growing incrementally in height
Martin Creed, Work No. 960 (2008)© Martin Creed, courtesy Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. Photo: Stuart Whipps
One writer's attempt to prod definitive answers out of Creed sends the affable artist down a confessional, dithering dead end, but upstairs, in a light-filled room crammed with white balloons, opposite a flat pyramid of pink toilet rolls against a wall, there is mirth aplenty.

This space, the subject of a queuing system which might leave security with their work cut out even before visitors have reached the rooftops, is not for the claustrophobic. Creed has introduced precisely the number of balloons capable of containing half the air in the strange sculptural playpit they fill.

He doesn’t know whether this is art, nor whether the opening work – a huge neon of the word MOTHERS, spinning less than seven foot above the ground like some sinister, silent fairground attraction – was ever meant to be realised on such a large scale.

Creed has said his idea was based around the overwhelming importance of the maternal figure, and of mothers being “out of control”. He prefers people and himself when they are less controlled, more spontaneous.

He wants audiences to like his work, an invitation only the concrete-hearted will resist when they hear the sound of echoey laughter emanating from the toilets here. Yet his devotion to instinct and feelings – at its most guttural and base in his videos of people defecating and vomiting, the latter of which is available to purchase on DVD for those yearning for more performance purging – is as certain to provoke cynicism as the title suggests.

Variety, from lines of prints of shades of broccoli to vast and tiny dogs and walls draped in coloured tape, abounds. Large and small, up and down, cramped and minimal – these are the extremes of What’s the Point of It?, self-awareness and an exquisite awkwardness the unerring features of an upbeat, carefully-paced show.

Perhaps the clincher, reflecting Creed’s intimated desire to please, will be the wit and originality of this dense retrospective. Creed, you suspect, will remain unassured in any case.

The undecided might just choose to remember the balloons. But the tallest order of items here is outside the doors. Work no 1812 is made of 80 different types of brick, a square giant encased by rings and rings of orange, white, black and brown – a temporary tower block over Waterloo Bridge.

  • Open 10am-6pm (8pm Thursday and Friday, 12pm-6pm Monday). Tickets £6.50-£12.75. Book online.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a gallery in which the walls are red and multicoloured. A piano is visible
Work No. 670, Orson and Sparky (2007). 35mm film, colour, sound© Photo: Linda Nylind
A photo of a gallery with piled of empty containers and a man playing a piano
Work No. 916 (2008). Boxes© Photo: Linda Nylind
A photo of a large neon side in a gallery spelling out the word mothers
Work No. 1092, MOTHERS (2011). White neon, steel© Photo: Linda Nylind
A photo of a scrunched up ball of paper casting a shadow against a white background
Work No. 88, A Sheet of Paper Crumpled into a Ball (1995)© Martin Creed, image courtesy Martin Creed
A photo of a room full of white balloons with a staircase visible
Work No. 200, Half the air in a Given Space (1998). White balloons, Multiple parts, each balloon 12 inches© Martin Creed, courtesy Il Giardino dei Lauri. Image courtesy Martin Creed
A photo of various types of ball, from football and bowls to rugby and gold, lined up
Martin Creed, Work No. 1636 (2013)© Martin Creed, image courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Genevieve Hanson
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