Bread Head: Martin Creed’s Toast At Hauser & Wirth

John Quin takes a bite, has doubts about the spread

Martin Creed is an artist I’ve often found amusing. Who can forget such timeless classics as Work No. 227: The lights going on and off (2000) that helped him win the Turner Prize? Oh, how we laughed at the po-faced lah-di-dah commentariat gibbering on about sober minimalism and the like when it was clearly a cracking gag at the expense of the high and mighty.

When they made Martin they broke the mould; he’s a true eccentric with his many hats and ties, his daffy songs, his endearingly obtuse ehm’s and ayes in interviews. Martin is strange, bizarre, weird, peculiar, irregular, singular, unconventional, idiosyncratic, off the wall, outlandish, whimsical, and aberrant. He is all this and more.

But sometimes you’re just not in the mood for fun and games. Sometimes you wake up in a bit of a huff. What can you say when an artist you’ve admired in the past, nay loved, has a bit of an off period and gives us a show that disappoints, frustrates, disconcerts, baffles, dissatisfies, that just isn’t up to scratch. Now to be fair Martin is undeniably productive. As is well known he often uses titles that enumerate the number of his creations; he’s well into the three thousands these days. He ain’t no shirker.

But what are we to make of Work No. 3159: Dancing Sock (2018)? This is an old sock that is being fixed to some electronics by an assistant when I arrive. The tatty garment is defiant and won’t move. The sock isn’t cavorting or boogying or gamboling or jigging. This sock isn’t freaky or funky. This sock is very laid back.

And then there’s Work No. 307: Peanut Butter on Toast (2018), a sculpture that is made of gold and patinated bronze and looks like half a jar of Sun-Pat spread thickly on a slice of toasted bread. Yum yum. But you can’t eat it. I guess that’s the point. Calling a show ‘Toast’ is risky and reminds me of that dreadful novelty hit song by Streetband sung by a pre-Live Aid Paul Young in a deadpan style not dissimilar to Creed’s own recordings:

I thought, oh yeah, I’ll have toast

A little piece of toast

Check it, it’s on YouTube, and is as irritating now as it was back in 1978 – the gag being let’s write about the most boring thing we can think of, i.e. toast. Which is unfair to toast.

Creed too has made something of a specialty of the banal, the trite, the hackneyed, the clichéd, the vapid, the commonplace, the ordinary, the stale, the tired, the pedestrian – in this show he out does himself. Creed now seems to specialize in irritation – he’s always loved repetition and daftness. But he’s taking it too far now.

Like that old odd Scottish poet Ivor Cutler a little of Creed’s shtick goes a long way but a lot starts to get on your proverbials. There are some coloured pencil drawings here that look like the work of a Rampton inmate.

And then there are the videos. He’s made some corkers in the past of course like Work No. 837 with people heaving, calling for Hughie and Ralph. There was another with people taking a shit but I couldn’t face that one. Here we get a sequence of short digital films (most around two minutes long) like Work No. 2727: Lily Cole (2016) where the camera slowly approaches a woman’s face only for her to open her mouth and expose some gunk on her tongue. Yuk.

Some might see this show as evidence of Creed’s protean skills, his multi-talented genius, his ability to do different things all at once, proof of his incredible versatility. And let’s be reasonable: when he’s on form he can still be light-heartedly agreeable like his room currently on display at Tate Britain as with Work No. 112: Thirty-nine metronomes beating time, one at every speed (1995-2004), and its diagonally patterned wall painting Work No. 1340 (2012). He plays a blinder over there. But this new show at Hauser and Wirth isn’t as good as the art you and I grew up with.

He seems to enjoy winding us up these days. He’s up for a bit of a taunt. He likes to rag us. He’s into joshing. And ribbing. I’ll bet the stuff here sells for a pretty penny too. You’ll need a fair bit of dough to buy this Toast.

The new Creed malarkey is too much and strikes me as a tad exasperating; it’s maddening, vexing, and a bit bothersome.

Martin Creed, Toast, is at Hauser & Wirth, London, until 9 February

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