PRINT January 1999

World Report

Gary Hume

That Gary Hume has been assigned the British Pavilion at the 48th VENICE BIENNALE has a certain Darwinian inevitability about it. The selection of the thirty-six-year-old artist—one of the boys in the band at Goldsmiths College and a veteran of the 1988 “Freeze” exhibition, that now-famous example of Thatcherite private enterprise—seems all but natural. His beautiful paintings of doors were shown at Karsten Schubert in London, Tanja Grunert in Cologne, and Matthew Marks in Manhattan; important group shows came fast and furious, not to mention a prestigious Barbara Gladstone residency in Rome; Hume was on the qui vive. By 1993, to the dismay of some, he had changed direction. The shining doors were replaced by gleaming figuration—heads, bodies, flowers, leaves—in plaintive toilet-tissue colors and heraldic black and white. Some uneasiness in transition gave way to a group of superlative paintings, stamped with the inimitable Hume-ian mix of insouciance and melancholy and braced with the tensions of aesthete and showman. Corralled by his dealers, Marks in New York and White Cube in London, collectors and institutions clashed in a scramble to buy. Hume’s best paintings amply justified both the critical acclaim and the kaleidoscope of shows that followed—solo efforts at the Bern Kunsthalle and the ICA London, inclusion in the group surveys “Brilliant!,” “Unbound,” and “Sensation,” and the selection to be Britain’s main man at the 1996 Sao Paulo Bienal. Now Venice beckons.

Hume follows Rachel Whiteread as Britain’s official representative in Venice. At the last biennial, Whiteread’s sculpture offered a compelling alternative to much of the bland internationalism that prevailed elsewhere. Hume should do the same, and his paintings are sure to look terrific in the pavilion’s hospitable spaces.

As usual, the selection has been made by the British Council’s Visual Arts panel, a committee of museum grandees, critics, and others who help to determine the country’s cultural profile abroad. To question whether Hume is the ideal representative is by no means to detract from his substantial achievements. Still, after a long run in the pavilion of solos for painters and sculptors, a show by an artist working in some other medium, or even a succinct thematic/group exhibition highlighting different sensibilities, might have been welcome. Nevertheless, Britain is in safe hands with Gary Hume, and if he doesn’t receive at least a “Premio 2000,” as did Whiteread and Douglas Gordon in 1997, it won’t be his fault.

Richard Shone