Critics’ Picks

Four Doors I, 1989/90, oil on canvas in four parts, 7' 10 1/8“ x 19' 5 7/8”.


Gary Hume

Modern Art Oxford
30 Pembroke Street
June 15–August 31

Gary Hume began his series known as the “Door Paintings” in the late 1980s, inspired by a wretched image from an ad for Bupa (a UK-based private health-insurance company) depicting a hospital waiting room. Despite their depressingly claustrophobic origins, and Hume’s later admission that he found the concept of the “Door Paintings” limiting, the series’ fifty-odd works, created with household gloss paint, led to critical and commercial acclaim for the artist. More recently, his consistently slick, shiny, pastel-hued art was welcomed as candy, a sweet reprieve from the diet of otherwise bitter and rough YBA work that sustained the English art scene throughout the ’90s.

Hume’s current exhibition, the first survey of the series, reopens the work to serious consideration and demonstrates how Hume’s seemingly simple and potentially constrictive conceit offers access to a surprisingly wide range of issues, including modernist conventions, modernism’s (mis)use in institutional settings, the relationship between depressing decor and depression itself, and the questionable link between visual pleasure and its conceptual context. The eighteen paintings in the museum’s light, airy, TARDIS-like space are predominantly ice-cream-colored and easy to like. Hume re-created the frames, windows, and kickplates typical of standard hospital doors, but his paintings’ glossy shine, pleasant palette, and clean surfaces are antithetical to their maudlin and distressing inspiration. Twin circles, placed side by side at the top of many of the panels, resemble vacuous eyes, giving the doors a friendly anthropomorphic appearance, and the simple patterns are soothing and sweet. Wherever else the doors may lead, they make the museum’s interior a delightful destination.