Summary

You see an office building. 2 and its companions, numbers 3 (Tate T07209), 4 (Tate T07210) and 5 (Tate T07211), are four rectangular floor-standing units of the same size. Opie created nine in this series in 1996. They are hollow, rectangular boxes constructed from MDF board, raised slightly off the floor with four narrow feet on the base of each. The boxes were roller-painted with white paint in the manner of a wall. Simplified architectural details in regular geometric patterns of squares, rectangles and stripes were then added in black and two tones of grey using a paint roller and masking tape system. The tops of the units are painted with a thin layer of white. Opie has explained:

I had been making boxes the shapes of objects and then painting the object on that box. Office buildings are box-shaped and can be quite narrow, almost like a painting canvas. They seemed closer to an idea of object as image and image as object. I ended up putting all the painted objects onto flattish boxes, just thick enough so that they stand up ... I try to make objects that are both a drawing of some specific situation but also a symbol ... If they became more symbolic there would be no reason for doing more than one, and they would perhaps lose a sense of relationship to the experienced world.

(Quoted in Julian Opie 1997, p.26-9.)


The office buildings in this series resemble typical office buildings of the 1960s. Scaled-down dramatically, they would seem to subvert the modernist idealism of architectural projects and city planning of that era. Opie made further sculptural versions of office buildings in the late 1990s related to other architectural periods, including Office? 1 and 2 1997 (destroyed) and more recently, Modern Towers 2001 (1A and B, II-XIII, 1B Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna). You pass an office building. 3 1996 (Tate T07192) is one of several wall paintings of office façades. A significant concept behind these works is the possibility for multiple combinations with other types of sculptural objects. Such installations may also be turned into environments by the inclusion of a wall painting. You see an office building. 2, 3, 4 and 5 were installed in a room with a life-sized model of a car, you are driving a Volvo 1996 (Tate T07207), surrounded by a wall painting of a landscape, There are hills in the distance (C) 1996 (Tate T07191) when Tate Modern opened in May 1998. Opie has said:

I see the sculptures as functioning a bit like objects in an IKEA catalogue. They can exist on their own but are also capable of being combined in many different ways with other objects from the catalogue, to create a larger whole ... Each object stands in relation to the others, but in a flexible way. What I show is one option among many; it is not definitive. I want the viewer to imagine that they could re-order the elements or that they would be re-ordered in another venue.

(Quoted in Julian Opie 1997, p.17.)


Since the early 1990s Opie has presented his modular sculptures as commodities for the viewer’s consumption. Catalogues of his work are designed to resemble sales brochures (Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings) and he uses titles which either seem to refer to prototypes (H 1991, Tate T06556) or to suggest that the viewer may wish to acquire the works and then rearrange them. Imagine you can order these 1993 (private collection) consists of free-standing rectangular concrete blocks painted different colours in seven versions, with seven suggested ways of setting them up from which the collector may select. Like the modular variations created by American artist Sol LeWitt (born 1928), such as Five Open Geometric Structures 1979 (Tate T07144), Opie’s earlier works are variations on geometric objects (in the guise of industrial models and prototypes). Through the mid 1990s Opie expanded the principles of modular variation into other kinds of structures and across artistic mediums. Works consisting of the same or similar images, with the same or similar titles, appear as sculptures, wall paintings, paintings, c-type and lambda prints, posters and videos. These works explore the formal qualities of the ‘generic’ image. Using the language of post-industrial modes of production, design and presentation, Opie questions how a generic image is formed, recognised and distinguished from another.

Further reading:
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, British Council 1997, pp.22-3 and 26-35, reproduced (colour) pp.26-7
Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 2001, pp.6-9
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, Ikon, Birmingham 2001, reproduced (colour) p.11

Elizabeth Manchester
September 2002