Critics’ Picks

Nathan Coley, Tate Modern on Fire (detail), 2017, stained timber, Perspex, mixed media, 67 x 39 x 35".

Nathan Coley, Tate Modern on Fire (detail), 2017, stained timber, Perspex, mixed media, 67 x 39 x 35".


Nathan Coley

18 Woodstock Street
February 10–March 18, 2017

Nathan Coley has a long-developed interest in value systems and how they shape the logics of space. Design, belief, and culture are addressed in his current show here, where he brings together the ascetic and soon-to-be-extinct Shakers, Islam, and the apocalyptic proposition of a burning Tate Modern.

Such an incongruous trio of subjects tempts an inflammatory topicality, which Coley productively and quietly turns toward belief and value. Attention is shifted from the spectacles of mass culture and the popularized alterity of Islam by foregrounding the Shakers: The Same For Everyone, 2017, is an illuminated text work displaying the titular phrase, which suggests an idea to which many subscribe yet few enact. The sentiment is echoed in another lit-up work, Palace, 2015, located downstairs. It lists the words belief, mind, life, land, and wealth—echoing the five protected necessities under Sharia law. The words land and wealth seem especially resonant in a gallery positioned between the boutiques of the Mayfair neighborhood and the shopping mecca of Oxford Street.

Tate Modern on Fire, 2017, is the show’s centerpiece, bringing our culture industry into view. An architectural model of the museum and its new extension, with 2-D flames flicking from the museum’s boiler house, sees Coley imagine a disaster that is as much image as event. Would a fire at the Tate be a disaster that devastates or titillates? Or could the model be a commission that the museum propagates, internalizing Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1965–68, to spectacular effect? The model’s open back tellingly reveals, among other things, Tate-shaped merchandise. In a culture industry that calls for the display of wealth and urges consumption, what values are ours?