Michael Landy: Saints Alive at the National Gallery
Known for his love of all things “junk,” Michael Landy was not an obvious choice for the prestigious Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist in residence at a gallery housing one of the finest and largest collections of Western European paintings in the world. When it was announced in 2010, Landy couldn’t quite believe it himself. Colin Wiggins, head of education at The National Gallery, recalled how upon meeting the artist, Landy’s first words were: “Before we start, can I just check that you do know who I am and what I do.” What at first seemed an unlikely duo, has in fact become a match made in heaven.
Saints Alive is inspired by early Renaissance paintings such as Sassetta’s The Stigmatisation of Saint Francis and Cima da Conegliano’s Saint Jerome in a Landscape hanging in the gallery’s Sainsbury Wing. The exhibition is a mixture of both framed art, showing Landy’s ideas and thought processes throughout the project, and giant kinetic fibreglass sculptures of saints including Appollonia, Jerome, Catherine and Thomas, that quite literally come “alive” at the push of a button.
Most famous for his exhibition Breakdown (2001) in which the artist catalogued and then destroyed everything he owned, Landy has clearly embraced not only the paintings that depict the saints but also their stories and attributes. Saint Francis of Assisi was born into wealth but led a simple life, refusing his inheritance and living without any material objects. This legend is brilliantly depicted in the enormous sculpture of the man where a mechanical claw, much like the ones used in arcade games, is plunged in the headless, hollow Saint Francis and resurfaces with nothing in its grasp, illustrating in a bold and literal way that the selfless saint had nothing left to give away.
Saints Alive is startling, violent and entertaining – just what one would expect from the Goldsmiths College graduate and a valuable addition to his catalogue of work. What is unexpected is the way Landy has managed to include his signature obsession with destruction and fragmentation without turning these greatly worshipped figures into puppets for his latest show. Landy has succeeded in bringing back to life the fascinating legends of the saints in a way that is accessible, thought-provoking, and not least, entertaining for all.
Photos: Allie Suwanrumpha
Saints Alive is at the National Gallery until 24th November 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.
For further information about Michael Landy visit here.