When I came out of the Tate Modern, I decided that as it was such a nice day I would walk along the Thames Path to the Southbank Centre. After a frozen yogurt from the pink Snog bus, I headed into the Hayward Gallery to see The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture.
In general, I find that I tend to prefer older art (from the nineteenth century and earlier) to modern paintings and the like. However, I feel rather differently about sculpture. In my (completely uneducated) opinion, it gets a bit dull looking at yet another white marble figure, so the way in which modern sculptors use different materials to create imaginative and radical art is much more appealing to me. For this reason, I was looking forward to The Human Factor, which brings together new work from 25 international artists who use the human form in new and exciting ways.
There was an incredible array of sculpture on display, from Thomas Schütte Krieger’s huge statues, made of wood which has been coloured and oiled, battle scarred and contorted, to Paloma Varga Weisz’s double-headed “Falling Woman”. Cathy Wilkes’ untitled sculpture of 2011 shows a disturbing tableau of contorted figures surrounded by battle equipment, while Maurizio Cattelan has created a frighteningly lifelike representation of John F. Kennedy in his coffin. Figures have been cast from wax, formed from mannequins with added material, sculpted from bronze and given a beehive for a head (the latter is Pierre Huyghe’s 2012 creation – the first and, probably, only time I will ever see a sign warning that “The following exhibition contains live bees”). Jeff Hoons’ “Bear and Policeman” of 1988 shows a giant teddy bear towering over a rotund policeman, while Martin Honert’s unsettling sculpture of his former English teacher recreates the shadows of the black and white photo from which the image was taken. Other sculptures evoke living statues, of the kind you see in Covent Garden surrounded by tourists – it is surreal to view statues of people pretending to be statues. Mark Wallinger’s “Ecce Homo” of 1999 displays a man with a shorn head and a crown of thorns – an allegory of persecution.
Even with the breadth of sculpture on offer, I still managed to find favourites. One, entitled “Tell my mother not to worry”, is a marble sculpture of the artist’s four-year-old daughter disguised as a ghost. This is achieved by the sculpting of a white sheet which trails along the ground, with extremely realistic folds; it suggests that there really is something underneath.
This piece was by Ryan Gander, as was another of my favourites, a “re-imagining” of Degas’ Little Dancer. You see an empty plinth ahead, then turn to the right to see the dancer on tiptoe, staring out of the window. The sculpture is easily recognisable as the Degas character, and I liked the attempt to suggest that she had her own autonomy and views.
My final favourite piece probably made the strongest impact on me. Located in a small room by itself, Maurizio Cattelan’s “Him” is a kneeling schoolboy figure with his back to the entrance, hands clasped in an attitude of prayer. As you approach and turn to see the boy’s face, however, you see he is not a boy at all, but Hitler. This discovery raises more questions – what is Hitler praying for? Is he seeking forgiveness for his past actions? Or is he asking for help to continue his evil plans?
I loved this exhibition and I think there is something for everyone here. The Hayward Gallery always tries to show something different; it doesn’t always succeed, but it has done so here.