Julian Opie

It Is Believed That Some Dinosaurs Could Run Faster Than a Cheetah


Not on display

Julian Opie born 1958
Painted wood
Unconfirmed: 2000 × 2000 × 2800 mm
Presented by the artist 1996


It is believed that some dinosaurs could run faster than a cheetah is a composite floor-standing sculpture. It consists of eleven hollow box units constructed out of MDF and roller-painted with acrylic emulsion. The paint finish is similar to that normally found on gallery (and other) walls. The boxes are installed to form a cube-shaped group, the sides of which should be parallel to the walls of the space in which it stands. Adjustable feet raise each unit slightly off the ground. The units are two metres high. They have square or rectangular bases and are arranged exactly 30.5cm apart, providing a maze-like corridor too narrow to be entered comfortably by an adult. The sides of the units are painted in a range of bright, monotone colours. More than one colour has been painted on each unit, on different sides. The units are arranged so that the white sides are on the outside, reflecting the white gallery walls. Within the installation, in the corridor spaces between units, bright colours reflect off each other. Viewed from a distance, the sculpture is a composition of brightly coloured stripes, contained within and partially separated by strips of white. The appearance of the individual colours is affected by their proximity to other colours as well as their distance from the viewer.

Opie produced several floor-standing composite sculptures with architectural resonances and complex factual titles in 1991. In order to cut glass it is necessary to score a line one molecule deep (private collection, Turin) follows a similar principle to It is believed ... in that it is a large cube-shaped group of MDF boxes. Its eight white units are triangular and polygonal in structure, resulting in corridors which traverse the cube in a straight line, allowing the viewer to see directly through the sculpture. In contrast to these two sculptures, which offer interior spaces and seem to refer to modernist city planning, two pillar-like sculptures made at the same time present wholly impenetrable aspects of architectural structures. There are 1800 electrical storms in the earth’s atmosphere at any one time (Lenbachhaus Stadische Gallery, Munich) and The average speed of a car in London is slower than that of equestrian traffic at the turn of the century (Barbara Thumm, Berlin) are constructed from wooden models of clustered architectural moulding. The former is painted entirely white. The latter is painted in stripes of bright colours, providing a compacted version of It is believed.... In all these works, titles which are statements of amazing facts about nature and science (usually derived from the book the artist was reading at the time of making the work) are juxtaposed with Minimalist blocks of colour and line. Opie took the title It is believed that some dinosaurs could run faster than a cheetah from the book Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (first published 1991, New York). The maze-like structure of the sculpture suggests mind games and modern city planning. The apparent lack of correlation between the physical form and the title forces the viewer into a confrontation with the imaginary scope of the work. The juxtaposition of a consideration of the comparative physical prowess of a dinosaur versus a cheetah with a cluster of geometric structures evoking tower blocks would seem to suggest a connection between modernist cities and brutal evolution.

A painting version of It is believed... (Lisson Gallery, London) created in the same year provides a bird’s eye view of the sculpture. Made in acrylic on wood, it resembles a three-dimensional drawing of a structure in a computer game. Opie developed perspectival exercises, looking at block-like structures from different viewpoints, in subsequent work. Imagine you are walking 1993 (paintings 1-36, private collections), in its many different variations, including the 1998/9 screenprint (Tate P78310), illustrate this. The replication of a work in such different mediums as painting, sculpture, printmaking and video has become a trademark of Opie’s work.

Further reading:
The British Art Show 1990, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1990, pp.86-7 and 136-7
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1993, p.60, reproduced (colour) p.58
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, Ikon, Birmingham 2001

Elizabeth Manchester
September 2002

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