Costermonger's Barrow II is an old wooden market barrow which Landy acquired second-hand from stall-makers in south London and repainted in green, red and orange enamel paint. On one side of the barrow a semi-legible inscription carved into the wood possibly indicates the barrow-owner's name and his marketplace number. The wheels have an iron ring around the outside which would originally have protected their wooden structure from damage on rough London streets. This has been painted over together with all the other parts of the wheels. It is the second of two similar barrows appropriated at the same time. Costermonger's Barrow I (Timothy Taylor Gallery, London) is painted yellow and red.
In 1988 Landy graduated from Goldsmiths' College, London, and participated in Freeze, the famous student art show curated by Damien Hirst (born 1965) in London's Docklands which marks the beginning of what has come to be known as the yBa (young British artist) phenomenon. Like others of his generation, Landy was taken up by a commercial gallery (Karsten Schubert, London) at his degree show and began to exhibit in major gallery spaces almost immediately. His early works provide an ironic reflection on the spirit of capitalism and consumerism prevalent at the time, a major factor in the development of the yBa phenomenon in itself. In 1990 his installation Market (exhibited at Building One, London) transformed a derelict industrial space into an large indoor market without the products. Landy constructed tiered market stalls from steel sections and wooden planks, which he covered in artificial grass. Component parts from these constructions were placed against the walls of the space in between stacks of plastic bread crates, laid either on the floor or towering on wheeled bases. The installation combined minimalist, geometric structure with the banality of everyday life emptied of its consumable goods. It was accompanied by video footage of high street grocers performing their daily ritual of setting up their pavement displays of plastic crates and fake grass. Two years later another installation, Closing Down Sale, used the gallery space to critique the notion of consumption in the art market. Landy filled Karsten Schubert Gallery with shop trolleys containing discarded objects he had picked up off the streets. Fluorescent signs on the walls bore such slogans as 'Meltdown Madness Sale' and 'Everything Must Go'. Made at a time when many London galleries were being forced to shut down because of the economic recession, Closing Down Sale provided Landy with a platform to express, through parody, an anxiety about how we value things (art, objects, people) and what happens to the rejects.
In this context, Landy's readymade Costermonger's Barrow II may be read as the ironic commercialisation of a vehicle for consumerism. Bereft of the marketable goods, in the form of fruit and vegetables, meat, fish or cheese, which it might once have transported and displayed, this costermonger's barrow has been transformed into an art object with no further practical use. Its saturation with glossy, brightly coloured paint emphasises its new, more decorative function. Costermonger's Stall 1992-7 (Saatchi Collection, London) is another appropriated piece of old market furniture, in this instance stacked with fresh flowers and bearing an addition of electric light-bulbs to illuminate the display.
Brilliant! New Art from Britain, exhibition catalogue, Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis 1995, pp.58-60
Market: Michael Landy, exhibition catalogue, Building One, London 1990
Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1997, pp.108-9, 200