Michael Craig-Martin: Transience

Exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London, until 14 February 2016.

Anna Sansom February 2016
For Michael Craig-Martin, one of the most influential artists of his generation, this exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London is a longtime coming. Craig-Martin's slick, graphic style, depiction of consumer products and strong use of lurid colours is immediately recognisable and powerful. Yet this is his first solo show in a British institution since his one at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1989.

His excitement at being welcomed back into the fold is palpable through the effort taken to display his work in such an engaging way. Two of the rooms have been painted pink and turquoise while another has been covered in a black-and-white wallpaper depicting an amalgamation of his drawings. Familiar, everyday products float gravity-less, centre-stage, in the paintings throughout the space.
Subject-wise, the 74-year-old artist portrays the evolution of technology from 1981 up to the present. Take music. There's a painting of a cassette from 2002, the perspectives of the holes and the band of tape treated architecturally, then a second painting of modern headphones made in 2014. The tracing from analogue to digital is captured, from boxy TV sets to the flatscreen of a laptop. In Biding Time (2004) – a fuchsia canvas with neon strips of yellows, greens, blues and oranges – an old-fashioned computer, like a Dell, and a Nokia mobile phone combine with office chairs, a compass and a coffee pot. Then further along, there's a painting of an iPhone. Even the trajectory of the household plug has not been overlooked, from one painting of a bulky plug to a slicker design of a double-socket model. What comes across is how these products have not just evolved but impacted on our lives.
But it's not all about technology. The most captivating work is Eye of the Storm (2003), in which a safety pin and a garden fork hover over a lightbulb, a keyring, a bucket and a female shoe, a fan looming in the background, in a medley of bright, garish colours. Another eye-catching painting is of an Adidas trainer: a pale pink model with green stripes on a red background. There's even a packet of chips in what resembles McDonald's packaging – the chips painted in a toxic green, a stab at junk food. Indeed, how consumer culture dominates our lives is the prevailing theme.

The exhibition is certainly well deserved. When DAMn° visited, art lovers of different generations were strolling round, smiles on their faces, marvelling at Craig-Martin's virtuosity. How he has influenced artists such as Julian Opie and Gary Hume, two of his students at Goldsmiths, University of London, is plain to see.

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Anna Sansom

Anna Sansom is a British-born, Paris-based journalist who writes about art, design, and architecture for DAMN°, Frame, Mark, The Art Newspaper, Whitewall, Art Now and Noblesse (China).

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