British conceptual artist Michael Craig-martin, renowned for transforming everyday objects into challenging masterpieces, discusses his coming installation at The Peninsula Hong Kong with Marianna Cerini
Michael Craig-martin discusses his coming installation at The Peninsula Hong Kong
A four-metre-high outline of a yellow light bulb made from steel will appear at The Peninsula Hong Kong this month as if floating above the fountain in the forecourt, the creation of one of the key figures of British conceptual art, Michael Craig-martin. “It’s a sculpture of a drawing, rather than a sculpture of an object,” the 75-year-old Irish-born artist says in explaining his concept, Bright Idea, 2016, for the Love Art at The Peninsula programme, an annual collaboration with the Royal Academy of Arts to coincide with Art Basel in Hong Kong.
The oversized rendering of ubiquitous things is a signature style of Craig-martin, with the transformation of familiar objects into vibrant constructs at the heart of his artistic practice. “We tend to dismiss mundane items as unimportant, when in fact they are a crucial link between us and the world,” he says. “They form a language that’s more effective than any verbal language—a universal meaning, if you wish. I like that; I’ve always thought that the most important ideas should be able to be expressed with the simplest means.”
Throughout his career, Craig-martin has been at the forefront of contemporary art, radically questioning its function and social purpose in the 1960s and ’70s with a number of controversial works. He has always tried to explore the potential of the ordinary—shoes, pitchforks, wheelbarrows, filing cabinets—bestowing on them artistic status. The conceptual piece that shot him to fame in 1973, An Oak Tree, consisted of a glass of water on a shelf above head height accompanied by the text of an imaginary conversation explaining how the artist had, through art, transubstantiated the glass of water into an oak tree. His subsequent work, from drawings to public sculpture, ballet designs and paintings, has followed very much in the same conceptual vein. In the 1980s and ’90s Craig-martin taught many of the wave of young talents known as the Young British Artists at Goldsmiths College in London, including Damien Hirst.
Bright Idea, 2016 recalls an acclaimed 2014 installation of similar outline sculptures by Craig-martin at Chatsworth House in England. Scissors, an umbrella and a stiletto, among other things, were laid out around the grounds of the stately home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. “A lightbulb seemed to me the perfect item for The Peninsula,” the artist says. “It represents many things, from light to warmth, but also, figuratively, the concept of sparking an idea—sometimes even a bright idea.”
The Peninsula project has taken several months of work, including scrupulous assessment of the hotel’s interiors and exteriors by the artist, first online, then in person during a long stay in Hong Kong. “Placing a work indoors or outdoors completely changes the audience’s perspective,” Craig-martin says. “Eventually I settled on the courtyard for its sense of a grand entrance. I wanted to create a piece that could be seen by people both coming to and leaving The Peninsula. The forecourt seemed like the perfect location to me.”
Worried that the sculpture “might be dwarfed by the surroundings and not hold its own,” Craig-martin painted the light bulb a striking artificial hue to make it stand out and made it larger than the Chatsworth sculptures so it would fit in with the scale of its surroundings.
“An art piece works best when people can recognise something in it that they already know or feel themselves,” Craig-martin says. “Being transparent, Bright Idea, 2016 engages the beholder with the world beyond itself. The forecourt, the people passing by, the surrounding elements—they all become part of it. It offers a different, simpler way of connecting with reality. I’m not didactic, I don’t have a big revelation I want to impose on others, but I try to encourage communication with my work and a sense of wonder—even for the things you see all the time.”
Bright Idea, 2016, will be on display at The Peninsula from March 20 to May 31. Michael Craig-martin will give a free public talk at the University of Hong Kong on March 20 at 5.30pm. For registration and ticketing, visit
Capturing the everyday Michael Craig-martin elevates common objects to art pieces
high heels and giant pitchforks In 2014, Michael Craig-martin placed a number of giant objects on the lawns of Chatsworth House, one of England’s grand estates. Bright Idea, 2016—his work for The Peninsula Hong Kong—will recall those installations in the form of an oversized light bulb