A few months back I wrote about the Martin Creed show at Hauser and Wirth. At the same time Gavin Brown and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum were having shows, so my intentions were to write reviews No. 2 and No. 3 accordingly. Alas, I missed the Gavin Brown show and just recently was able to take in Scales at the Aldrich. As I have mentioned before, the Aldrich is just like going home for me. This is where many of the ideas I have about art where born.
Martin Creed’s Scales at the Aldrich is less a show than a collection of sound related works. Thats just fine as Creed thinks of his art this way. The Aldrich has curated a museum wide Music themed show featuring installations by Xaviera Simmons, Simon Blackmore, James Mollison and the music collection of Sol LeWitt. This last bit (near and dear to my heart) sounds strange, but shows a serialized fascination with music that was typical of the artists approach.
Creed shines in the few examples here. The finest is in fact the thing for which the artist became infamous and (rightly) famous all at once. Work No. 227, the centerpiece of Creed’s 2000 Turner Prize win, was a room, with the lights turning on and off at set intervals. This work is paired with Work No. 189, 39 Metronomes set to all of the possible settings, lined up on the floor in the same space. This room was a combination of modern musical composition and Guantanamo interrogation chamber. The unnerving clicks gave way to light deprivation. From another room a loud clang tested nerves and turned out to be Work No. 1652 in which the keyboard cover and top of a wooden upright piano slam furiously down every 10 seconds and resets mechanically. The gallery attendant has control over this with a remote that they seem to trigger when incoming attendees enter the aforementioned space. This riot of sound and light adjusts your rhythm.
Another spot where dread plays an outsized role is Work No. 1190, in which half the volume of a room is filled with Balloons. The space is filled so high that you would need to be 7 foot tall to clear the balloons. I will say that this work was best experienced not by me alone, but by viewing the emotions of my 3 year old son. His initial response to the sight of a room full of balloons was joy but when we entered there was some nervous energy to contend with. Once we defined our space within the balloons (and got some selfies out of the way), we acclimated to a golden-hued atmosphere that reverberated our voices. When 3 women entered, my son became shy and reserved. The space changed with their noise and movement. It was not our laboratory any longer, and their impact on our space meant we lost control. We left shortly thereafter and he smiled about our adventure, but I know that the multisensory experience was a bit off putting for both of us. Creed sets things askew, off kilter.
There are many other works by Creed here, including sound (an elevator sighing, a drum machine playing all of its noises), video (a woman vomiting colorfully) and works on paper and canvas. The viewer gets a fair vision of who Creed is from Scales. The playfulness of the work is offset by the way in which you must confront it to experience it. Creed’s work is an experience; one that he has made for himself as much as for the viewer. Let’s face it, art lets us off too easy sometimes. Not Creed.
-Jeff Bergman February 2014