Michael Landy

Work V


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Not on display

Michael Landy born 1963
Steel, paint, plywood and artificial grass
Displayed: 1833 × 3201 × 482 mm
Purchased 2018


Work V 1990 consists of the disassembled constituent parts – steel framework, wood shelves and sheets of artificial grass, stacked and presented leaning up against a wall – that, when assembled, would constitute a generic market stall; in this case, of the sort that presents a series of stepped shelves for the display of fruit and vegetable produce. From left to right, leaning against the wall are the two stepped frame ends stacked on top of each other, the set of struts, and the wooden planks that form the shelves (also stacked on top of each other); to the right is a pile of the folded sheets of artificial grass that, were the stall to be assembled, would cover the stepped sequence of shelves.

Work V was originally shown as part of Michael Landy’s installation Market at Building One in 1990, a large warehouse space in Bermondsey in the East End of London. Eighty-five individual works were arranged either leaning up or standing near to the building’s perimeter walls. Also included was another work in Tate’s collection, Appropriation 2 1990 (Tate L02301), one of three videos that show a grocer laying out a makeshift stall outside his shop. Other works in the exhibition included Appropriation 1XVI, Collect IXV and Stack IXII, all 1990 – all different arrangements of made out of the plastic crates used by bakers to transport and store bread. Freestanding throughout the open space of the building were arranged thirty-nine Market Stall 1XXXIX works, a single Bale, as well as some of the low-lying arrangements of bread trays that were part of the Appropriation series. The installation engaged with a post-minimalist modular language of assembly, presented as process – between fabricated and unfabricated states – mediated by the Appropriation videos. These videos served to animate Landy’s structures, posing questions of status, authorship, function, potentiality and context. Their allegiance to a Duchampian ideal of the readymade, and the aesthetics of simulation and appropriation were alluded to by Landy when he explained, ‘I do nothing with my “materials” that wouldn’t be done by a street trader.’ (Michael Landy, quoted in Andrew Renton, ‘Art’, Blitz, December 1990, p.34.)

For the critic Richard Shone, ‘the luxury of the vast space in which it [Market] was installed engendered an overwhelming impression of bleakness stretching to infinity’ (Richard Shone, ‘“Getting and Spending”, Michael Landy Works 1988–95’, in Landy 2008, p.34). Created at the end of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, it appeared – through its emphasis on the sculptural substructure of a market providing a basis to systems of commerce and trade – to engage with a critique of consumerism. Although this has gone on to form one clear aspect of Landy’s work, at the time he admitted that it was not ‘uppermost in my mind. I was more interested in the sculptural aspects at that time. I was interested in the everyday world and what the everyday world made. I liked the idea of it being a kind of homage to that once-a-week street market that would be assembled and then disappear as quickly as it had been put up.’ (‘A Conversation between Michael Landy and James Lingwood’, in ibid., p.102.) By being concerned with work that connected with everyday reality and, here, with the language of display, and primarily a type of display that would encourage desire and its fulfillment through consumption, Landy situated his work alongside critiques of modernism and its decline.

In the Market installation, however, Landy created an environment with no goods to display or sell other than the supporting structure for the market; with direct references to the everyday world, there were opportunities also for thinking this could actually be a part of that everyday world (the bread crates were supplied to Landy by Allied Bakeries and the market stands were industrially fabricated). The curator Kate Bush explained:

Landy’s piece knowingly catalyses a dialectic between what is and what isn’t art. Market is comprised of real, non-art objects – stalls, crates, planks – constructed by commercial manufacturers, and yet it can only be understood as art, self-consciously created for the context of the gallery, and for consumption in the art market. It rehearses some of the distinctions between artistic activity and social activity, highlighting different categories of value (use, exchange, commodity and aesthetic) and production.
(Bush 1990, unpaginated.)

A number of Landy’s later works address issues around consumerism and the structures of consumption; for example, his exhibition Closing Down Sale at Karsten Schubert Gallery, London in 1992; his large-scale installation Scrapheap Services 1995 (Tate T07221) and his project Break Down 2001, for which he catalogued, weighed, dismantled and crushed all his personal possessions in a commercial-style recycling plant installed for the purpose in a disused building on Oxford Street, at the heart of London’s shopping area.

Further reading
Kate Bush, Michael Landy, Market, exhibition catalogue, Building One, London 1990, both works illustrated, unpaginated.
Michael Landy, Everything Must Go, London 2008, illustrated pp.15–32.

Andrew Wilson
November 2017

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