What polystyrene is lacking aesthetically it usually makes up for in
functionality and low cost. More commonly known for its kebab-bearing virtues, the lightweight plastic is not the most obvious choice of material for great works of art. However, it is for the work of the Lithuanian
artist Zilvinas Landzbergas at the new Arrivals exhibition at Modern
Art Oxford. The gallery has specially commissioned the exhibition to
allow the foreign artist to display his work for the first time in the
There is a sense of being hoodwinked by appearances when one wanders around the single room that makes up
the exhibition: surfaces, painted in block opaque tones and given a
metallic sheen, confer the objects with a deceptive sense of weight. It
is hard to believe that the impressive statue, which takes centre stage
in the exhibition, is light enough to be picked up and hurled through
the air.
Landzbergas’ incorporation of mass produced materials into his work –
duct tape, scrap paper, polystyrene – confounds conventions of
classical sculpture. The man’s magnitude and muscular chest give him
the appearance of an Olympian hero, yet he is painted in brash blue colours and, to
all appearances, is wearing tracksuit bottoms. This classical sculpture
turned boy’s action figure throws hero-worship into a thoroughly cynical light.
Indeed, it is interesting how the impression of solidity or
magnificence is undercut by the artist’s novel uses of material and
shape. Most striking in his break from tradition is the arrangement of
the figure on the gallery floor with his legs suspended in the air. As the artist describes in
his introduction to the work, the figure is a “statue without a
pedestal, like a fallen hero”.
Overall the absent pedestal serves an apt metaphor for the atmosphere
of the exhibition. There is a certain amount of fragmented disorder
about the exhibition, which may divide viewers’ opinions of his work.
Objects are irreverently scattered around the room with little thematic
continuity. Out of the objects in the room other than the sculpture (a
square of duct tape, a doughnut-shaped ring under the statue, and a
cone fixed to the wall), it is literally holes and voids that
characterise the work most.
While I find the statue compelling, looking at the other objects that
are exhibited can feel similar to how admiring the emperor’s new
clothes might feel: there is nothing obviously meaningful or
aesthetically pleasing about the white pole leaning against the wall,
for instance. It is sometimes difficult to know where the gallery ends
and the work of art begins. Gazing at a white MDF board nailed around a
pillar I have to check that I am not just appreciating the gallery’s
maintenance work. The distinction between high and low culture, art and
non-art is blurred by the seemingly random collection of objects.
But then perhaps that is the point. Landzbergas is rejecting the
realism often associated with the sculpture of the Soviet Era.
Lithuania emerged from Communism in 1991, became a democratic republic
and joined the European Union in May of last year. Fifteen years on
from independence,
its fragmented quality may be interpreted as expressing a playful freedom which reflects how Lithuania has broken away from the ties of restricted self-expression.
It is quite possible for cynicism to get the better of you when viewing
the exhibition. Landzbergas’ work certainly yields more questions than
it does answers. Nevertheless the exhibition is thought-provoking and
his playful characterisation of sculpture is enjoyable. For a small exhibition, the work is strangely rich in interesting ambiguities.ARCHIVE: 2nd week MT 2005