EX­TRA or­di­nary

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

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

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

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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

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