Masters of illusion will challenge your perception of sculpture at Hayward Gallery
Confused, wobbly, and – frankly – a little sick. When you leave the Hayward Gallery’s new show, your body might not feel quite right. Your feet have been on the ceiling and your head on the floor; you’ll have met strangers’ eyes in the mirror. Through 20 optically-oriented, sensory artworks your image will be turned upside down and inside out, reflected back, cut up and blacked out.
The artworks of ‘Space Shifters’ were made between 1960 and 2018 – a 50-year period that has seen vast changes in our landscape in every sense. Some of the artists were hippies interested in psychedelic effects, others are minimalists with pondering philosophical ideas about architecture and space. Yet despite the fact the surroundings, contexts and aims of each of these large-scale interventions may have been entirely different, they look remarkably united now – and in a world that feels the wrong way round, they provoke a familiar feeling of disorientation and imbalance.
‘To many of these artists, the viewer’s experience and the act of perception was more important than anything else,’ says Hayward Gallery senior curator Dr Cliff Lauson in an introduction to the exhibition. In Alicja Kwade’s WeltenLinie work (unveiled at the 2017 Venice Biennale) a series of illusory, steel sculptures, double-mirrors and stone-like objects, the artist confirms, what the viewers experience is a ‘phantasm rather than an object’.
WeltenLinie, 2017, by Alicja Kwade. © The artist. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery. Photography: Mark Blower
Some of the new works respond directly to the Hayward’s brutalist architecture, sculptural in form in itself: a new commission by the Spanish artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, is inspired by the London gallery’s iconic cast-concrete staircases; Leonor Antunes’ cascading masterpiece, discrepancies with A. (2018), which interacts with the new light-filled space in the renovated galleries, unveiled at the beginning of the year.
Other works challenge perceptions in other ways, such as Richard Wilson’s oil and mirror work, 20:50, first shown in 1987 at Matt’s Gallery, and now taking over the whole upper floor at the Hayward; or Yayoi Kusama’s scintillating, vertiginous Narcisscus Garden, a series of mirrored spheres scattered across the lower galleries glinting like fish scales. Seeing yourself differently also makes you see the world around you in an unexpected, topsy turvy way.
Of course, there’s another reason for this show, and at this time: it’s a clarion advocation for the IRL experience, in times where most people would rather scroll through exhibitions on their phone. It’s true that ‘Space Shifters’ can’t be seen on a screen – you’ll just have to get off the sofa and go. Just don’t expect to come back in one piece. §