It was on a recent trip to the Saatchi Gallery to see The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture, the obligatory Summer ’Blockbuster’, that some fundamental questions about both the creation and display of art were thrown into quite sharp relief. Spot the charmingly witty pun…didn’t see it?…well that might be important a bit further on.
Entering Gallery 1, a vast utterly pristine ‘white cube’ space, the viewer is presented with a field of eight roughly hewn boulders scattered about the gallery as if they had been teleported from Avebury. The work is Summit (2009) by Belgian artist Kris Martin.
Atop each of the rocks stands a small paper cross coloured with ink; which both the artist and the gallery suggest indicates that the stones have been conquered, alluding to such things as; dominion, struggle, conquest and victory.
Beneath each lump of stone sits a rusting steel ‘pallet’ like object comprised of an approximately one metre square sheet, itself elevated on three “I” beams welded equidistantly along the same axis. This forms a very noticeable, seemingly integral element of the work.
Strange then that their presence in the room and as part of the work is completely omitted from the exhibition guide and any other mention of the work I have come across in print or on-line. It is as if they have been wilfully ignored; do the artist and the gallery expect us as viewers to overlook the structural steel constructions at our feet? I am not going to mention that particular brand of clichéd Pachyderm but you get the gist.
For a moment, let us take a step back and approach this conundrum from a logical standpoint. Number one; There is no mention of the steel objects in any of the materials lists related to this work or in it’s description – it doesn’t take Poirot (co-incidentally of Belgian origin) to deduce that this has been done intentionally. Number two; mentioned or not, the objects are readily apparent in the room and are made from a material which has so many sculptural connotations.
The presence of the ‘pallets’ indicates that there is a point to their existence, if they were completely unnecessary then I would imagine they would have been entirely omitted from the work and there would be no reason for me to write this.
The only conclusion my little grey cells could derive is that they perhaps perform some kind of function, if we assign not only the form of a pallet but the purpose; I.e. to aid the movement of large or heavy objects from one position to another through mechanical or motorised means, then these objects begin to make sense, at least from a practical point of view.
What does not make sense however is why such materially and visually striking entities are apparently demoted to the status of the nail that keeps a painting on the wall – wholly necessary but ultimately disregarded. The difference is that once the canvas goes up, the nail is no longer visible; here these elements are plainly seen and are as physically present as the rock that sits on top of them.
Further perplexing is the following sentence, again, taken from the gallery guide; “Within the artist’s visual pun there’s also perhaps a metaphor for the importance of process in art-making itself.”
It certainly doesn’t seem that way to me. How important can ‘process’ be to an artist or a gallery who would have you casually ignore such a glaring omission? Pretty integral to the ‘process’ of getting this work to the gallery are the steel rafts, if indeed their function is what I’ve surmised.
Whatever the case, my point is that every mark, every object, every paint splatter, every-thing that goes into the creation, construction and display of a work of art has to be accounted for. There must, we assume at any rate, be a decision behind each element, whether that be for aesthetic, philosophical or practical reasons. The materials are the media through which the process occurs and are the items which form the work presented. Anomalies such as this are at best an honest oversight, at worst just plain sloppy.