sun 22/10/2017

Young Reviewer of the Year Award Winner: Katherine Waters on Marc Quinn | reviews, news & interviews

Young Reviewer of the Year Award Winner: Katherine Waters on Marc Quinn

Young Reviewer of the Year Award Winner: Katherine Waters on Marc Quinn

The winning entry of theartsdesk's award reviews Drawn from Life at Sir John Soane's Museum

All About Love: Marc Quinn's sculpture of himself with his wife Jenny Bastet

The best way to see Marc Quinn’s exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum is to begin at the end, in a room explaining the process of casting the sculptures’ moulds from the entwined bodies of him and his partner, dancer Jenny Bastet.

Alongside text explanations and studio photographs, the moulds are displayed in glass cases. They look like strange pinioned butterflies, irregular vivisections, anthropological exhibits confected of kitsch and gusto (the dental gum used is electroshock pink). Carved-open interiors reveal inverted breasts, nipples, elbows, shoulders, genitals, and mazes of linked hands burrowing out of sight into flossy whorls. Sharp gummy flakes define interstices between their two bodies, and hairs pulled out by the roots ripple along the insides of the moulds. Tiny impressions of pores and pimples stipple the surface, swirling in loose galaxies between wrinkles and junctions of flesh. One glass case holds a horizontal display of the two halves of Bastet's midriff and legs; her buttocks form full cups at the top of lean thighs, and the cast of her labia is coy, quaint - gently mischievous.

Through the simple inversion of positive and negative space, the familiar is rendered strange and the indescribable quality of being in love intimated sculpturally. The impression of intimacy is playfully cast into the public sphere yet remains somehow intangible.

In comparison, the sculptures installed around the museum itself are slack. The use of packing boxes as plinths is crass, and the subtle micro-balances between resistance and swooning detailed in iterations of Quinn and Bastet’s clasped, pinioned and interlaced hands are overwhelmed by the clumsy fact that it's always his arms and her entire body. Quinn is obviously in thrall to Bastet, but for an artist who has previously focussed profoundly on his own position in the world as a maker and a human, these pieces suffer for their self-regard and bijou solipsism.

Smart curation acts as a partial foil to this over-sentimentality. On the first floor, two goosefleshed bums (Shake and Eyes) peer out of windows facing onto Lincoln's Inn Fields. A third (Breathe) presides over a curved apse in front of a convex wall mirror which reflects back its cavity and the emptiness of the pretence we can ever be fully united, no matter how tangled in love we are. But there’s a profound split between the works and the house. Soane’s house is a monument to his magpie intelligence and while the different materials Quinn deploys to visually fragment the sculptures cleverly hide them in plain sight, the works themselves are not enhanced and do not seem to merit the setting.

It’s a shame. There’s a tight, ludic joy to the moulds, and real significance in their implications around love as both an unparalleled flight of wonder and a project of resilience, determination and nerve. But poised thinking should be present throughout and so, as with a relationship, by beginning with the good stuff you know whether you’ve appetite for the rest.

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Great stuff!

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