I am allowed to enter the room full of oversized white balloons. Balloons fill up half of an ornate alcove at the Park Avenue Armory, and the door is wedged shut, to stop them from spilling into the hall. Handing my purse to a docent, I elbow my way in, climbing over balloons and spiking them into the air. I feel balloon baptized by Half the air in a given space, one of Martin Creed’s multidisciplinary, esoteric works on display at the Armory this summer.
Martin Creed: The Back Door is the first comprehensive US survey of the artist’s work, and the most expansive single-artist takeover of the Armory ever. Works large and small, visceral and puzzling roost throughout the building, with the potential to draw ire and admiration alike. “The lights going on and off, can elicit very strong reactions. Someone once threw eggs at it,” curator Tom Eccles tells The Creators Project.
The roving band at Martin Creed: The Back Door. Photo by James Ewing. Image courtesy Park Avenue Armory.
“There was this uproar as to whether this was art, whether he was a con man. People said, ‘Anybody can make this art.’ And what’s kind of interesting is that anyone could make his art, to some degree, but when you see it together, you start to realize there’s a consistency, an honesty to the work, and an element of searching,” says Eccles. “Each idea seems pregnant with anticipation for the next, and it all starts to fit together.
Though often presented in isolation, the Armory show is a deluge, and interpretation washes over viewers in waves. The works range from the relatively innocuous, like a slamming grand piano and ticking metronomes, to the controversial, like his infamous short films of people vomiting and defecating. A roving band of megaphone-toting musicians wanders the halls, performing the artist’s original music. Creed created a site specific film installation for The Back Door in the Armory’s drill hall, depicting people eating and opening their mouths. As each video ends, the door of a loading dock at the back of the cavernous space opens to reveal the bustling street outside.
“The sheer, massive size of the space was the single biggest motivating factor in thinking about what to do. It’s like fuck, this is an amazing space. Am I trying to compete with that?” Creed tells The Creators Project. “And that made me think of trying to not use the space. Instead of this massive space I have to fill with loads of stuff, why don’t I turn it inside out and look outwards? Who cares about the fucking big space, you know? I mean, I would like to have an exhibition in the toilet. That drill hall is no different. It’s just another room. A big room.”
Though deeply conceptual, his work is imbued with anxiety and wit and grapples with being human. “That feeling of, ‘Oh god, I have to fill this space…’ I think that’s an analogy for a lot of things in life,” Creed says. “If you get a job or whatever, it’s like, ‘I have to do this thing. I have to put up a front. I have to fit in.’ And then it’s about thinking, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t have to put up a front. I don’t have to pretend.’”
By staring down the existential with self-awareness and mirth, Creed turns the Armory into a cultural fun house. Rebecca Robertson, president and executive producer of Park Avenue Armory says, “It’s a complete folly, this building. And frankly, we find it rather eccentric. We felt it was in the DNA of the building from the beginning.”
Martin Creed: The Back Door is on display through August 7, 2016 at the Park Avenue Armory. The show coincides with Public Art Fund’s presentation of Work No. 2630, UNDERSTANDING, a 25-foot-tall rotating ruby-red neon sculpture on display at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 through October 23.