Visitors to collector Joop van Caldenborgh’s newly opened Museum Voorlinden near the Hague are immediately drawn to a pair of glass doors that open upon a room filled about halfway to the ceiling with multicolored balloons.
On a recent day, museumgoers old and young queued up to make their way through the balloons to the exit door. Some laughed. Others found it claustrophobic, and still others concentrated on elbowing their way to the egress. Of course, many of the children wanted to go through several times.
The balloon room is part of an exhibition devoted to British artist Martin Creed, who won the Turner Prize in 2001. Creed’s admirer Wim Pijbes, the former general director of the Rijksmuseum who is a board member of Voorlinden and now runs the Stichting Droom en Daad in Rotterdam, characterizes the artist’s work as nothing short of an effort toward “restructuring the visible world.”
And that it is! For example, there is 1826, a work that involves 1,275 rolls of toilet paper stacked up like a mountain, starting with a 50-roll-long base and then rising up, minus one roll per row until it forms a simple, minimalist pyramid.
The balloon work and other pieces familiar to Creed audience were not assembled by the artist himself, but rather by a team at Voorlinden, who followed the artist’s directions. It was an undertaking that curator Suzanne Schwarz, writing in the exhibition catalogue, found to be challenging and fun. In assembling the exhibition, Schwarz seems to have been drawn to works in which ordinary objects—steel beams, duct tape, cactus plants, toilet paper—are taken out of their core functional contexts and put together in an aesthetic format. No. 1785, for example, is a series of ten steel I-beams stacked and anchored to a wall. And while the works are appealing, these particular efforts to “restructure” become somewhat repetitive of a single point.
(Incidentally, the exhibition does not include some of the controversial works that were shown at the Park Avenue Armory last year, such as films of people vomiting and defecating.)
Installing the art was demanding, and Swartz writes that building the stack of I-beams took four people at the museum three full days. Meanwhile, Work No. 1000 consists of 1,000 broccoli prints—which involved using 500 heads of broccoli cut in half and painted. (That challenge kept a two-man team busy for three days.)
Some of the works could not be constructed precisely as Creed had wished. For example, the artist had conceived of the balloon room as being filled with only blue balloons. But as balloons by nature lose their air and had to be replaced over the course of an exhibition, the team could not find enough balloons in that hue. As a result, the work had to be altered so that the room was filled with multicolor balloons, leaving a totally different visual impression.
The pleasure of this show comes from seeing ordinary objects that are minimally altered and in unusual ways. They are low-tech pieces, and critic Tim Adams wrote of Creed’s work in The Guardian, “[You] can’t help feeling you might need quite a low bar for knowingness.”
Creed has said of his work that assembling these pieces helps him organize things. In an interview with the New York Times last year, he said, “I feel bad to say I’m an artist because I don’t really know what art is.” He added, “I try and do things because I find life is difficult and I want make it better. More bearable.” But while there is a sense of discovery in seeing objects used differently from their traditional purpose, few of the works do more than raise a smile.