SERPENTINE GALLERY: Transience, Michael Craig-Martin

Having seen Craig-Martin’s radical approach to coordinating the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition last year, we were especially excited to visit his solo show at the Serpentine Gallery – the first of his work in a public London arts space since 1989.

Transience did not disappoint. Even the gallery walls boast dazzling colour and exciting graphics. As for Craig-Martin’s work itself, the vast range on display includes pieces created in the 1980s through to some produced as recently as 2015. This extensive timespan provides a record of how technology has evolved, showing advancements in computing, and how culture has become more and more reliant on digital products.

Various Installation Views, Transience, Michael Craig-Martin, Serpentine Gallery

The earliest piece on show was created in 1981, the same year as the first portable computer was made available to the public. In stark contrast, the most recent paintings depict items such as the latest iPhone and Mac. It is therefore easy to see Transience as a visual timeline of the development of the role of technology in popular culture.

Eye of the Storm, 2003; Biding Time (magenta), 2004, Michael Craig-Martin

Craig-Martin captures everyday items in their simplest forms, depicting each in a palette of vivid colours with solid, black outlines. Many of the subjects in these pieces are now obsolete, or appear outdated, providing the viewer with the opportunity to reflect on how day-to-day life has changed as product design advances along with the needs and wants of the consumer.

Untitled (watch), Michael Craig-Martin, 2015

Transience seeks to highlight how products that would once have been a familiar sight are now distinctly old-fashioned, and emphasises how continuous innovation brought on by the digital age is the culprit for a revolution in how we now interact and communicate.

Vertigo, 1981; Untitled (smoke alarm), 2014; Untitled (hotel door handle), 2014; Untitled (light bulb), 2014, Michael Craig-Martin

While some pieces are mounted directly onto the Serpentine Gallery’s pristine walls, others are displayed on seamless wallpaper designed by Craig-Martin especially for this exhibition. Printed in Austria to fit the exact dimensions of the gallery space, this wallpaper depicts objects familiar to Craig-Martin’s paintings and drawings. Each item does not overlap or obscure its neighbouring motifs, instead the outlines just touch, creating the illusion that they are somehow balancing on top of each other.

Untitled (Self Portrait No.6), Michael Craig-Martin, 2005

It is especially intriguing to see how objects to which one may attribute little value or importance, have become an example of great innovations in design. For example, the lightbulb – a simple object which serves only one purpose – has undergone many developments to improve its power, lifetime and efficiency since its invention. This is highlighted in Craig-Martin’s work which provides an insight into the significance of design in transforming something simply functional into an object with aesthetic value.

Lightbulb (magenta), Michael Craig-Martin, 2015 / Photo credit: Jerry Hardman-Jones

Michael Craig-Martin’s work is not only shown within the gallery space, it spills out into Kensington Gardens. Shown above is an example of Craig-Martin’s sculpture; minimal in style, this eye-catching, vibrantly coloured outline contrasts with the surrounding green park life. Lightbulb (magenta) is the first piece we saw before entering the Serpentine Gallery and hints at the brilliant display of artwork on show inside.