The Human Factor at London’s Hayward Gallery

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Linda Nylind. 14/6/2014.

Bear and Policeman by Jeff Koons – The Human Factor. Photo by Linda Nylind

There’s a real buzz around the Hayward Gallery’s Human Factor show – quite literally. A sculpture of a woman with a hive of bees sitting on her head is buzzing with activity on the outdoor terrace.

Standing a little close for comfort, I backed off this remarkable work which is one of many challenging pieces in the Hayward’s highly entertaining summer sculpture show. 

There’s an unsettling feeling throughout the exhibition with figures such as Jeff Koon’s grizzly bear hugging a policeman, Yinka Shonibare’s headless ballerina brandishing a gun and Thomas Hirschhorn’s disturbing shop window dummies.  

Spanning 25 years the Human Factor  looks at contemporary artists who have used the human body as a means of exploring concerns about everything from consumerism to politics.

Uncanny figures

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 14/6/2014.

Thomas Schutter’s battling figures. Photo by Linda Nylind

Step inside the first gallery and you’re confronted by two large wooden totems by Thomas Schutter. Look closer and you’ll see that they’re intent on taking large chunks out of each other’s bodies.

It’s one of the many works in the show with an underlying message. Here we have the brutality of man against his fellow man.

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.

Falling Woman by Weisz.
Photo – Linda Nylind

These battle-ravaged warriors also have a certain mythic or folkorish quality as if they’re from The Lord of the Rings.

Hanging from the ceiling above is Falling Woman, a female figure hanging upside down wearing what looks like a strait-jacket or draped robes.

This powerful work by German artist Paloma Varga Weisz could represent a torture victim.

But its two-sided face with different expressions provides a degree of ambiguity which makes this a fascinating piece.

Confronting the work at close quarters is slightly unnerving.

I couldn’t make out if the figure had been dismembered or was engaged in a strange ritual.

Over in a nearby corner, the ambiguity continues with a group of slumped figures lying in a heap.

This bundle of figures is equally disconcerting and puzzling.

ALTHAMER, Untitled, 2006_1

Althamer’s Untitled c/o Neugerriemschneider Museum Berlin and Foksal Gallery Foundation

Pawel Althamer’s work is called Untitled and we’re left to make our own minds up about what happened to them and why their faces are masked.  Have they been kidnapped, murdered or imprisoned?

It’s unclear what to read into the work but it’s provocative and powerful.

Girl Ballerina (2007) by Yinka Shonibare. Photograph: Yinka Shonibare/Stephen Friedman and DACS

Girl Ballerina by Yinka Shonibare. Photograph: Yinka Shonibare/Stephen Friedman and DACS

So far so good. I was enjoying myself… 

As I moved on to the upper gallery space, there were a few less dramatic works which I skipped past because one exceptional work had caught my eye nearby.

British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare’s Girl Ballerina is a fascinating study in femininity which takes its cue from Degas’ famous ballerina statue. 

But this ballerina has a sting in her tail.

The headless figure wields a revolver behind her back as she poses in a typical ballet posture, all grace and perfection on the outside.

I love the way that the artist has subverted this archetypal feminine image.

In the same gallery, there were more explorations of femininity with a series of shop window dummies by Thomas Hirschhorn.

These were some of my favorite works in the show.

They pulled a mean punch. I loved the idea of the plastic mannequins being corroded and eaten away by society’s greed and rampant consumerism.  

In the impressive work, Resistance-Subjecter, the mannequins have been taken over by jagged crystalline shapes. 

Model mannequins

Frank Benson’s thoroughly modern mannequin of the Human Statue – Jessie also speaks volumes about the representation of women in modern society with its faceless figure striking a perfect pose.  

BENSON_Human Statue Jessie

Benson’s Human Statue (Jessie) c/o Sadie Coles HQ and Andrew Kreps Gallery New York

The model wears outsized sunglasses and there’s a sense of creating a modern-day version of a classical sculpture.

There are strong hints of Greco-Roman sculptures overlaid with present day technologies of wire frame modelling and robotic carving.

This bronze and polyurethane sculpture is a strange hybrid of classicism and hyperrealism.

Mannequins are a big theme across the two floors of the exhibition.

Downstairs you’ll find Isa Genzken’s android clubber decked out in outlandish clothing.

I wasn’t so struck by this work which was pretty average compared to the rest.

But it amused me when I read that the model is wearing clothes borrowed from Genzken’s own wardrobe.

What the hell must she look like when she goes out for a night on the town! To be fair, some of the items were fashioned from salvaged materials which the artist had assembled.

Apparently the choice of cheap or discarded materials reflects the artist’s concern with environmental issues and a horror and fascination with the excesses of contemporary urban life.

GENZKEN_Untitled, 2012_3

Genzken’s Untitled mannequin

It didn’t really work for me but Ryan Gander’s series of bronze sculptures  featuring the escaped figure of Degas’ ballerina (yes, her again) did engage me.

These pieces were rather good.

Legend has it that the artist first took his subject off her plinth for a cigarette break!

He then created further episodes in her rebellious ‘after life’ set in an art gallery.

As the sequence progresses, the ballerina shows her increasing independence and a lack of respect for art institutions.

My favourite work is a statue the ballerina staring at new horizons from a gallery window at the great wild world beyond the institution’s doors.  

 This is a kind of modern feminist version of the ballerina who has thrown off her shackles and escaped from being an object on a plinth.

The reflection of the gallery behind her adds to the sense of her claustrophobic life before her run for freedom.  

GANDER_Come up on different streets

Ryan Gander’s Absinth Blurs My Thoughts. Photo – Peter Hauk

Classic nudes

This exhibition boasts many images of women from hyper-realistic nudes courtesy of Paul McCarthy to Ugo Rondinone’s classical-style statues.

The three life-sized nude casts of Paul McCarthy’s That Girl (T.G. Awake) are super-real replicas of an actress sitting in a variety of postures on top of glass-topped trestle tables.

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Linda Nylind. 14/6/2014.

Paul McCarthy’s That Girl Photo by Linda Nylind.

Some of the works are almost gynecological in their attention to detail, provoking a slightly embarrassed reaction from some British tourists at the show.

These lovely looking works are made using life-casts in what the artist calls a desire to connect with “a fear of the virtual, the fear of being unable to discern a real human from a mannequin”.

Equally impressive are Ugo Rondinone’s classic-style series of nudes. These life-size figures are cast in wax from the bodies of young dancers.

Placed directly on the floor, the seated nudes are depicted with eyes closed, in a state of peaceful retreat and introversion.

Their placement around the edges of the gallery creates a sense of being inside the dancers’ studio.  It’s as if we’ve eavesdropped on them during their break.

They are frozen, timeless figures. It’s almost like we’ve burst in on a frozen performance and the floor as a stage.

RONDI36988 view01 Helicon a

Ugi Rondinone’s Dancer c/o Galleries Eva Presenhuber Zurich. Photo – Stefan Altenburger

Figure it out

Just in case you think that the male body has been missed out, you’ll be pleased to hear that the show has plenty of studies of masculinity.

BENSON_Human Statue, 2005

Human Statue by Frank Benson c/o Benson, Sadie Coles HQ and Andrew Kreps Gallery New York

Frank Benson’s Human Statue of a hyper-realistic toned male figure leaps out as you enter the upper galleries.

I like its perfect Adonis-like classical style with a modern twist.

In a similar vein is one of the best pieces in the show – an old favorite by British artist Mark Wallinger.

You’ll remember Ecce Homo from its appearance on the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Now there’s a chance to see it at close quarters with its golden crown of thorns.

There’s something deceptively simple yet beautiful about this white marbelized statue. 

When Wallinger made this work, acts of genocide in Bosnia were very much in his mind.

According to the artist, Christ’s head is shorn because “that’s the kind of humiliation they doled out during ethnic cleansing –  it’s what the Nazis did to the Jews”.

There’s no denying that this is a powerful work when confronted close-up.

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.

Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo c/o Mark Wallinger 
Photo by Linda Nylind

The statue is just as resonant today, if not more so, with the current civil conflicts going on in Syria and Iraq.

CATTELAN, Him 2001

Him by Maurizio Cattelan c/o Cattelan Archive

Also with a political theme are two powerful and compelling works by Maurizio Cattelan.

Cattelan’s work is concerned with deception and deceptive appearances. Nothing is quite what it seems in his work.

His image of Hitler certainly deceived me as I approached it from behind, thinking it was a man praying.

As I moved around, I was shocked to see it was Adolph Hitler.

I wasn’t sure if Hitler was supposed to be praying for redemption or if  he was in a deep state of contemplation.

Another of his works – a life-size effigy of President John F. Kennedy lying in state – also plays with your mind.

Apparently Cattelan once dealt with real corpses when he worked in a morgue and he seems to have a fascination with mortality.

Perhaps these works have something to do with the ongoing fame and notoriety of these political figureheads in the media? 

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.

JFK – Now by Cattelan  – photo by Linda Nylind. Copyright of Cattelan Archive 

There’s plenty of figuring out to be done at this exhibition which is one of the things that makes it so intriguing.

A strange work called Skinny Sunrise by Urs Fisher featuring a skeleton on a park bench also puzzled the punters. This work also uses the theme of mortality but twists it in a playful way.

FISHER_Skinny Sunrise, 2000

Urs Fischer’s Skinny Sunrise c/o Fischer/Gallerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich  

Bees buzzing

Now this all brings me back to those buzzing bees I mentioned earlier.

Pierre Huyghe’s Liegender Frauenakt features a reclining female nude. The basis of the work is an existing sculpture that has undergone a transformation and evolution.

The original bronze sculpture, a classical work by the 20th Century Swiss sculptor Max Weber, has had a swarming beehive installed on its head.


Pierre Huyghe’s Liegender Frauenakt – photo Linda Nylind

Pierre Huyghe has created a surreal hybrid between a man-made creature and a living organism. This strange metamorphosis is Kafkaesque.   

It’s one of the most diverting works in the exhibition – especially when the bees break loose from their subject! 

Elsewhere, there are a few ordinary works in the Human Factor show. But overall this is a dramatic and entertaining exhibition with a lot of compelling and provocative sculptures.

It certainly had me buzzing!    

Tammy’s top tips – The Human Factor

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.

Yinka Shonibare’s Boy on a Globe c/o the artist, Stephen Friedman and DACS. Photo by Linda Nylind

The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture is on at Hayward Gallery, South Bank, London until 7 September 2014. Tickets are £10.90 for adults (concessions are available).

The nearest Tube station is Waterloo. Buses along Waterloo Bridge also stop next to the Hayward Gallery.

Also located nearby are Somerset House, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery – if you’re looking to combine this show with another exhibition.

Credits – Photos are courtesy of Hayward Gallery, the artists and galleries as credited above.

ALTHAMER_Monika and Pawel

Pawel Althamer’s Monika and Pawel c/o Foksal Gallery Foundation

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