Michael Landy ′s kinetic art on show in Basel | Arts | DW | 09.06.2016
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Michael Landy 's kinetic art on show in Basel

He creates works that are often frozen, inviting the viewer to set them in motion. The Museum Tinguely in Basel celebrates the oeuvre of British artist Michael Landy.

It's the first retrospective of Michael Landy, an agile artist and lateral thinker in his mid-50s, filling a huge exhibition hall with flickering screens, squawking loudspeakers and strangely clattering fantasy machines. Idly standing around are a monk statue without head, a shopping cart full of odd paraphernalia, empty market stalls covered with green artificial turf, and tons of empty fruit boxes.

The huge head of a monk without a body is hanging from the ceiling, drawings of plants and portraits are covering the walls. It's a colorful world, indeed, but one wonders what exactly the British artist Michael Landy is trying to convey?

Art in Britain under the Iron Lady

The exhibition entitled "Out of Order" is a voyage through time, leading us through the life of the unconventional artist, a native of London. The year 1988 saw Landy's first exhibition, "Freeze," a milestone in his artistic achievements. Back then, Landy was one of the "Young British Artists," an informal group of artists who shocked the British art scene with politically motivated actions in the 1990s.

Landy's colleague Damien Hirst went so far as to exhibit animal bodies preserved in formaldehyde, which ruffled quite a few feather. It was the era of Iron Lady Margret Thatcher and her tough reforms, followed by her successor, John Major. Landy strongly criticizes the reforms, which he sees as having caused economic decline, unemployment and social divisions, and he says the situation convicted him to take a stand.

Michael Landy and one of his works in Museum Tinguely, Copyright: DW/S. Dege

The artist and one of his works in Museum Tinguely

Stinging remarks by artists

His curious, investigating gray-green eyes make the 53-year old artist look a bit boyish, and younger than he is. He created quite a few of the works now shown in the Basel exhibition during the Thatcher era, during which his own family was struck hard. His parents' home was located in Hackney, a workers' district in the eastern part of London.

The hardship he witnessed made the young artist think about what he perceived as the cynicism of politics. He tried to formulate an artistic response to these political challenges with his works, "Closing Down Sale" (1992) and "Scrapheap Services" (1996.) Among Landy's stinging comments is an overloaded shopping cart with a loudspeaker voice trying to talk people into buying things, and a company specialized in getting rid of people who are not considered useful anymore.

An artist destroys his own property

How does the possession of material things affect us? What do we really need to live? These are the fundamental questions going around in Landy's head and finding expression in his works. His early installation, "Market" (1990), took an ironic look at consumerism with market stalls standing empty.

Landy also stirred interest when he first listed and then destroyed his entire personal property, including his car, passport, birth certificate, cloth, artworks, and books. With "Breakdown" (2001), the British artist even made it into the feature pages of German newspapers. Relics of these actions can now be admired in Basel.

Part of the exhibition is also a personal homage to his father, who was badly injured during a work accident a few decades ago, as well as drawings of his body parts which were not injured.

Museum Tinguely opened 20 years ago

You need to take a very close look at Landy's works to grasp his thoughts and feelings, his questions and answers. But taking some time for that may be worthwhile, as what unfolds is an entire cosmos of artistic forms of expression. Among the most curious items are self-constructed machines that, after a button has been pressed, are set in motion, such as the "Credit Card Destroying Machine" ( 2010.)

Michael Landy was inspired and fascinated by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) who shared his passion for mobile machine-like sculptures. Tinguely's poetic machines have found a permanent home in the Basel museum. The Museum Tinguely, located in the idyllic Park Solitude, will celebrate its 20th anniversary on September 25, 2016, which will also see the close of the Michael Landy retrospective.

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