Critics’ Picks

View of “David Shrigley: Brain Activity,” 2012.

View of “David Shrigley: Brain Activity,” 2012.

London

David Shrigley

Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road
February 1–May 13, 2012

It is impossible to maintain airs when confronted with a work captioned MUSEUMS ARE FULL OF CRAP in one of the most prestigious museums in the UK––and that is the beauty of David Shrigley’s art. In his first major survey in his home country––comprising sculpture, illustration, and his renowned animations––Shrigley forces you to laugh alongside his work’s self-conscious irony. This particular piece is just one of a series of similar illustrations, collectively titled “Untitled (This Is Nothing),” 2011. Other drawings feature wry takes on British stereotypes, such as A CUP OF TEA WILL RESTORE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, or on fashion culture coupled with audience suggestibility: I AM A CAT-WALK MODEL. I AM VERY UGLY BUT NO ONE SEEMS TO NOTICE.

Shrigley’s exploration of death and decay runs particularly strongly through his sculptural works. He often uses taxidermy in a way that is humorous in its self-consciousness: I’m Dead, 2010, for instance, is a puppy holding a picket sign that bears the titular declaration, and Nutless, 2002, is a decapitated squirrel holding its own head. There are also several works using the motif of tooth decay. What Decay Looks Like, 2001, is perhaps the most dark, showing a rotting tooth looking at itself in a full-length mirror that you, consequently, are forced to look into, so that you also consider your own decay. An oversize ceramic teacup, Very Large Cup of Tea, 2012, filled with actual tea and milk (but no sugar), festers and grays from mold, evoking an idea of comfortable domesticity that is, itself, in a constant state of decomposition. Throughout this show, Shrigley displays his particular talent of making you laugh while also making you acutely aware of your own mortality.