Critics’ Picks

Cardboard Palace (work in progress), 2002.

Cardboard Palace (work in progress), 2002.


Hew Locke

Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road
April 24–June 2, 2002

The horror! The horror! Hew Locke’s astonishing Cardboard Palace, 2002, invites viewers on an ironic voyage into the heart of British darkness. Locke has cut, folded, glued, woven, and twisted what looks like several football fields’ worth of ordinary brown packing cardboard into a fantastic jungle-cum-grotto that’s positively baroque in its ornate splendor and structural ingenuity. Huge, grinning, glowing faces peer creepily from the palace’s “forest canopy”— not Kurtz and his followers, but the Queen and her immediate family, stenciled images taken from tourist postcards. In one corner, Locke has installed a kind of “junk room,” piled high with cardboard scraps, the detritus of the English monarchy—commemorative junk, jigsaw puzzle pieces, pulp biographies, etc.—and the face of Princess Di. Locke traces his quasi-anthropological fascination with the royal family back to his childhood in British Guiana, where school notebooks bore the face of the monarch and penalties for scribbling moustaches and bushy eyebrows upon it were severe. His table-turning project avoids obvious iconoclastic rhetoric but opens up a wide range of questions about the exportation of culture and the construction of the “exotic.” And with yet another Jubilee looming, the timing of the show is perfect. The Queen Mum—she dead, as (risking accusations of bad taste) one might say.