Thomas Houseago ‘What Went Down’

Installation view 'What Went Down', Museum Abteiberg, Moenchengladbach, 2011
Museum Abteiberg, Moenchengladbach

Thomas Houseago is currently one of the most frequently discussed sculptors of the younger generation. His works demonstrate a new approach to sculptural figuration. Houseago presents an astonishingly sensuous, almost archaic materiality, which incorporates the effects of past and now apparently no longer feasible sculptural motifs: tableau, statue and torso, antique and modern allegories of humans, gods and creatures. Houseago risks the irritating effect of these recurring bodies and an art historical force whose seriousness and grandeur recall the former urge to develop a modern image of what it is to be human. That tradition is particularly evident in Houseago’s native Britain — in the memory of the anthropomorphous abstractions of Jacob Epstein or Henry Moore.
Houseago’s sculptures do not replicate heroic or spiritual physical forms, however, but transform them into fictionality and stage-like drama. His works are contemporary, since they are fantasy too. They operate with fantastic and mythical concepts, which are at times also derived from the digital world of plastic and, indeed, inspired by it. Yet Houseago’s works are, above all, prior to all these associations and to every image or depiction, very sketch-like and graphic creations. Their scenic construction is especially characteristic: Houseago’s sculptures are often supernaturally large, yet hollow and open, the carnality of heroes breaking off in flat surfaces, their limbs attached only coarsely like prostheses. White gypsum, raw wood, core iron structures and carbon pencil are always the base materials, followed by sculptural cast techniques which, due to new processes, are often similarly fragile, sketch-like and colourless. They are bronze, but yet almost inscrutable beneath whitish chalky or contrasting negative back patina surfaces.
Thomas Houseago was born in Leeds, England, in 1972 and studied at Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, then at De Ateliers in Amsterdam, where he had such contrasting tutors as Stanley Brouwn, Georg Herold or Thomas Schütte. He recently described his personal reaction to earlier generations — i.e. his own historical starting point in the late Nineties — in a characteristic statement: “I am fascinated by the act — whatever form it takes — of making art. And in a broad sense by how an artist responds to the world and the action that occurs from that interaction. Isuppose I felt the need to return to very simple means to play out that drama — I wanted to get rid of the ready-made and
figure out what I looked like and how I reacted to the world.”
The exhibition at Museum Abteiberg is the artist’s first large presentation in Germany and his biggest exhibition to date. It occupies the large hall for temporary exhibitions and the open areas at street level, whose spheres Houseago has entitled as two fictional rooms: “The Dream Room” and “The Future”. The familiar figurative motifs are now supplemented by engagements with space and architecture manifested in new model-like objects and a series of abstract relief works whose formations are vivid sculptural spaces. The new mural works exhibited in the museum foyer are surrounded, among other objects, by a more than four metre long “Reclining Figure”. The other figures presented also include “Big Sister”, a very early monumental sculpture dating from 1998, which was never exhibited before.
The exhibition was arranged in cooperation with Modern Art Oxford and the Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière, France. The artist’s first monograph will be published in the context of the exhibition series (May 2011, Modern Art Oxford) as will a documentary exhibition publication on the projects in Mönchengladbach and Vassivière (summer 2011).
The project received generous support from Hans Fries-Stiftung and Sammlung Rheingold. We also thank the other private sponsors and Hotel Rosenmeer for their contributions to the project.