British-born artist Marc Quinn is perhaps most well known for his 1991 artwork Self: a life size sculpture of his head, using 4.5 litres of his own blood. Bought by Charles Saatchi for £13,000 in the year of its conception, this work has accrued almost mythical status.
In 2005, Quinn took over the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square with his sculptural artwork Alison Lapper. Alison, who is an artist herself, was born without arms and with incredibly shortened legs. This work showed her nude and unflinching, proud of her nakedness. Deformities such Alison’s are naturally compelling to observe due to their uniqueness. As a species we are intrigued by anything unusual or different, but society tells us we mustn’t. Looking upon such a drastic disability is often thought to be an insult to the recipient, and children quickly learn not to stare.
Quinn's sculpture rejects these social conventions and shows her in all her unique beauty. Placing her on a plinth he shows us that is ok to look (in fact he forced us to do so), and that Alison has nothing to hide. There was no shame in her face. This work was bold, brazen, and brilliant.
On the 14th of July Quinn’s new show The Toxic Sublime opened at the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey. This new body of work is quite far removed from his bodily excretions and his sculptures of those without limbs, seemingly more reserved and delicate.
Most prominent and striking in this show are his stainless steel Wave and Shell sculptures, dotted around on the gallery floor. Highly polished in some areas they are more Cloudgate than Wave, but are beautiful nonetheless.
The other and more subtle works in the show are vast undulating canvasses, affixed to bent aluminum sheets. Upon these canvasses is a mixture of: photographs of sunsets, spray paint, and tape (amongst a myriad of other less determinable shapes). The canvasses once painted are abrasively rubbed against drain covers in the street.
The inclusions of these humble drain covers into the artwork is possibly the most interesting element to the whole show. Something described in the press release as being:
“.. suggestive of how water, which is free and boundless in the ocean, is tamed, controlled and directed by the manmade network of conduits running beneath the surface of the city.”
Quinn’s notoriety was gained in the early nineties for bravely showing the public that which we usually hide: faeces, blood, semen, and the like. Gilded and placed on a plinth for all to see. His earlier work depicted that which lies beneath, where as this show obscures exactly that. The drain cover is an object that hides these very secretions, burying them underground.
Quinn's work is brilliant at showing us the beauty in the overlooked and the grotesque, and this show to some extent does just that. The Toxic Sublime is definitely very beautiful, but it lacks a certain grotesqueness that is a Marc Quinn trademark.
Photographs from Marcquinn.com
White Cube Bermondsey
15 July 2015 – 13 September 2015