Art Review: Shape Shifters, Hayward Gallery ‘Fascinating and Genuinely Thought-Provoking’


There are some big names included in Shape Shifters, the latest exhibition at the Hayward Gallery that considers how some contemporary artists have challenged and distorted our perceptions of the space around us.

Yayoi Kusama is a big draw, obviously – especially as many struggled to get tickets to see her latest works at Victoria Miro. Come see a room full of her narcissus balls here instead. Plus, there’s a Kapoor mirror that reflects yet distorts the sky back at you (which you can’t see anyway if you visit the show after dusk has fallen as it’s on the balcony and you are not allowed to go outside) and a really quite affecting gold bead curtain from Felix Gonzalez-Torres that haunts you with its overtones of death and the need to pass through it to get to the other side.

Yet I found myself spending more time with the less famous works, particularly Fred Sandback’s red wool yarn, a single thread of which creates a triangle across a corner of one of the galleries. It’s weird how this throws you – the ringfencing of a space, the demarcation of a zone, but a space that is hollow with no solid structure within. Stand on either side of the red line and are you in or out?

It’s also hard not to be thrown by Roni Horn’s sculpture. Its appearance is like a giant fruit pastille, its sides so seemingly squidgy and covered with a rough dusting of sugar, But its top side is so clear, like a still pool of water. Dare you reach out to see if just a brush of your finger will cause ripples? But, of course, it won’t as it’s not liquid. It’s a trick.

And there’s a lot of tricks being played by the artworks on display. Kapoor’s bulging cube of distorting mirrors sits alongside Jeppe Hein’s giant rotating mirror. I found them a bit obvious though there were many in the exhibition when I visited that evidently disagreed with me.

More challenging is Alicja Kwade’s maze that occupies the second gallery. Only in this maze, some walls are mirrors and some walls are not there at all. The inconsistency and unpredictability of it all throws you. You over think and second guess yourself, fearful that one single misstep will see you shattering part of the artwork accidentally. What should be such a simple pathway through becomes more treacherous and your eyes start to play tricks on you as you catch partial glimpses and reflections of others trying and stumbling, like you, to navigate a safe path.

The big finale is reserved for Richard Wilson’s oil lake, where the whole last gallery has been flooded, to waist-height, with sump oil, save for a sliver of a steel-enforced walkway. Visitors are invited, one by one, to enter this room and, good lord, does it feel dark. Not just literally. This ocean of oil, the height of it all… It feels like a slow, silent wave of death. Was this Richard’s original intention when he devised this installation back in the 80s? I do not know. But considering the amount of blood that has been spilt for this substance since then, it is a powerful ending to a genuinely fascinating and challenging exhibition.

Hayward Gallery, London, to January 6, 2019.
Tickets from £15 (concessions available)

Image Credits:
Lead Image (c) Hayward Gallery
All other installation images: Victoria Sadler

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