The first thing that greets you when you enter the excellently titled show The Upset Bucket is the gentle hum emanating from a shiny, rubbed phallocentric monolith – a work with more than a passing resemblance to what the gallery terms a “sexual gadget.”
This cheeky little number is Paul McCarthy’s 2007 work Brancusi Tree, part butt plug, part monument to the sculptures of Constantin Brâncuși, which in turn, were somewhat sexual in their forms and allusions. There’s a large smattering of wit and humour to the piece, shared by many in this show, which is the third in the series of four exhibitions of the ISelf Collection held at the Whitechapel Gallery in east London.
The ISelf Collection was established in 2009 by Lebanon-born, London-based pair Maria and Malek Sukkar. Their collection houses contemporary art by renowned international artists – refreshingly, the majority of whom are women – and much of which has rarely been exhibited and seen by the public. The works displayed at the Whitechapel in this series of shows collectively explore ideas of “personal identity and the human condition.”
McCarthy is one of 28 international artists in this exhibition, with others including Ai Weiwei, Wolfgang Tilmans, Mona Hatoum, and Karla Black. The exhibition title from is taken from a work by Francis Alÿs, which is on show for the first time since 1999, the year of its creation. According to the gallery, the show “unpicks the theme of identity that runs through the whole collection and specifically explores how individuals shape their identity and relationships with others through the consumer and material world.”
As such, much of the work looks at the nature of today’s “disposable” culture, making art from waste or error. One of the pieces that does this most succinctly and wittily is LA-based artist Walead Beshty’s, one of a series of pieces for which he packaged his artworks in FedEx boxes and shipped them, though designing his methods so that the pieces break and shatter. An equally shatter-prone work is that by Matthew Darbyshire: Untitled: Shelves No. 7 (Series 2) is a cabinet display of pieces that we’re (for the most part) familiar with, reimagined and reconfigured into something rather more strange – an owl figurine, a vase, champagne flutes, a bong, and McDonald’s Coca-Cola glasses sit side by side, rendered in red and blue against the gallery walls’ white.
Disposability isn’t just about waste and consumption in an object-based sense, though, it’s about sex and “pornification” of the everyday, as collage artist Linder’s work shows; highlighting feminist concerns with a wry playfulness by combining pornographic images with cosmetic, food and luxury watch advertising “to address the relationship between desire and consumerism.”
The gallery suggest that “many of the works in the show draw attention to the notion that people project their identity through their appearances and consumer choices.” It adds, “Through painting, sculpture and vintage photography the themes of birth, death, sexuality, love, pain and joy are all rigorously explored. Many of the works examine the existential dilemma that is inherent to human nature.”
ISelf Collection: The Upset Bucket is at the Whitechapel Gallery until 1 April 2018. The final display is ISelf Collection: Bumped Bodies (10 April – 12 August 2018).