It may be 2016 but it is still surprising to be confronted by the medium-less methodology of truly conceptual artists. Even today, as the lines between art and culture blur daily, artists who define themselves by concept rather than medium, continue to be unique. The latest installation at the Park Avenue Armory by the conceptual British artist Martin Creed (b. 1968), teases viewers with every form of art imaginable. There are videos, wandering minstrels, paintings and drawings, “sculptural interventions,” installations, balloons, metronomes, and woven textiles, making the exhibition seem like a surrealist carnival. Within this massive body of disparate works are as many compelling pieces as there are throwaway gestures, and as a viewer Creed’s work commands a level of attention akin to multitasking.
Martin Creed: The Back Door, aptly titled after an installation that involves the literal opening and closing of the back door, is the largest survey of Creed’s work in the US to date. Known for using existing materials and spaces to create “modifications” rather new artworks, Creed utilizes the entire first floor of the Armory in unexpected ways. Acting almost like a city map, the program guides viewers though the space, from the “Mary Divver Room” to the “Board of Officers.” Though it’s hard to tell if the building is recontextualizing the art or if the art is recontextualizing the building, Creed’s installations overtake the space in an inviting but challenging manner. Like most site-specific installations, the tension between the site and the artwork becomes inseparable, and however foreign or familiar Creed’s artwork might be, it takes on a new dimensionality in this particular retrospective.