Turner Prize 2001 artists: Martin Creed

Martin Creed was nominated for the Turner Prize for his solo exhibition Martin Creed Works at Southampton City Art Gallery, Leeds City Art Gallery, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, and Camden Arts Centre, London, and Art Now: Martin Creed at Tate Britain, London, in which he reaffirmed the rigour and purity of his work and its characteristic mixture of seriousness and humour.

Martin Creed The lights going on and off

Martin Creed
The lights going on and off 2000
© Martin Creed. Photo: Tate Photography

Martin Creed was born in Wakefield, England, in 1968, and from 1986-90 attended the Slade School of Art in London. In 1993 his Work No. 81, ‘a one inch cube of masking tape in the middle of every wall in a building’ was installed in the offices of the London firm, Starkmann Ltd, and since then Creed has had eighteen solo exhibitions or projects in Europe and North America and has participated in numerous group exhibitions world wide. He lives and works in London.

Martin Creed’s work

Creed’s art is characterised by a gentle but subversive wit and by a minimalism rooted in an instinctive anti-materialism. His often extremely self-effacing works, all titled by number, such as Work No.79 1993, ‘some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball and depressed against a wall’, or Work No. 88 ‘a sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball’, or Work No. 81, have been characterised as ‘attempts to short-circuit the visually overloaded, choice saturated culture in which we live’. They also take their place in the honourable tradition within the avant-garde of making work which appears to have no material value - which resists or defies commodification, even if in vain. Hence his conscious use of mundane and modest materials. His work however is always arresting and can be visually spectacular, as for example his neon works, or what is probably his most celebrated piece, Work No.200 1998, ‘half the air in a given space’. Widely exhibited, this consists of a sufficient number of twelve inch white balloons filled with air to half-fill the gallery space. He has made variants with black , red and multi-coloured balloons.

A central theme of Creed’s work is the nature of art itself, the relationship between art and reality, art and life, a preoccupation of much modern art, and he explores the boundaries in interesting and unsettling ways. His Work No. 143, installed on the façade of Tate Britain in 2000, set out in blue neon the equation ‘the whole world + the work = the whole world’. This has been interpreted in a number of ways, one of which is as an assertion of the necessity of art as an integral part of the world and of life. On the other hand it could suggest that art makes no difference or even does not exist. This questioning comes from deep within the artist who has said ‘I don’t think of myself as an artist’ and suggests the intensity of his reappraisal of what art is.