Magazine article Artforum International

Tim Shaw: Kenneth Armitage Foundation

Magazine article Artforum International

Tim Shaw: Kenneth Armitage Foundation

Article excerpt

Far off almost anyone's London contemporary art map is Kensington, the posh residential neighborhood where the only galleries are the sort that might be expected to exhibit small bronze figurines--like this foundation, sited in the former studio of the prominent postwar sculptor Kenneth Armitage. And small bronze figurines, by the little-known midcareer sculptor Tim Shaw, do occupy the top floor, which made the installation hidden at the hack all the more astonishing.

Shaw has spent part of his two-and-a-half-year residency here building Casting a Dark Democracy, 2007-2008, a gargantuan, more than sixteen-foot-high sculpture of a hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner, and it is shockingly powerful. Shaw's classical training allowed him to craft this giant (made of steel, barbed wire, and black plastic) to pitch-perfect recognizability. After Richard Serra's flat and disappointing drawing of the same figure, Stop Bush, 2004, I'd assumed that no artwork could ever match the impact of the actual newspaper photos, but Casting succeeds. In this tall, windowless space--part chapel, part prison cell--the noted Christian connotations (crucifixion, stigmata) were oddly supplanted by pagan overtones, recalling Burning Man or some secret cult. From the entranceway, the work was a massively imposing vision; from underneath, one could see that it is hollow, as if torn open and shredding, ghostly and overwhelming.

Followers of contemporary art might instinctively recoil from Casting as an obsolete example of the eighteenth-century sublime, combining terror, immense scale, awe, and beauty. Artists now tend to chronicle our times via the gaps or edges of history--for example Mark Wallinger's brilliant State Britain, 2007, his re-creation of an antiwar street protest encampment. Casting is a conventional monument, effectively following in the outmoded footsteps of, say, the 1954 Iwo Jima Memorial, which similarly rendered in metal a war's most visually communicative photograph. …

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