Mark Wallinger was the artist that dressed up as a bear for the evening inside Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie and lost out to Damien Hirst’s severed formaldehyde cows at the 1995 Turner Prize. Since then Wallinger has continued to push the button of British society and politics, taking the Turner crown in 2007 for a recreation of Brian Haw’s anti-war protest in Trafalgar Square and representing Britain at the Venice Biennale. Now, the contemporary British artist with a hefty reputation reveals the inner workings of his mind to audiences at Hauser & Wirth.
For his first exhibition with the blue-chip gallery headed by Iwan and Manuela Wirth, named the most powerful people in the art world by the Art Review in 2015, it is a statement. Separated across the two galleries on Savile Row, Wallinger takes a page out of Freud’s book in this show riddled with id, ego and superego. Pensive and reflective, Wallinger invites the audiences to see themselves through his art.
Into the first gallery space Wallinger’s id paintings dominate. These monumental canvases vibrate with billowing black forms that look suspiciously like a psychiatrist is about to ask ‘and what do you see here?’ Wallinger makes you confess – is it pain, torture or paradise that these forms coalesce into? Like the two sides of the artist’s brain, it’s a fascinating transformation of the self-portrait that makes the viewer an active performer. I’m beginning to think this entire show will be one long psychoanalysis session.
Into the second space, Wallinger’s disembodied shadow weaves moves across the pavement of Shaftesbury Avenue. Mesmerised, Wallinger’s sandals and his shadow become part of the landscape and we’re happy to accept it as the artist’s reality. Looming overhead is the revolving New Scotland yard sign or ‘Superego’. Formally speaking it’s a wonderful piece whose metallic surface makes you feel palpably dizzy if looked at for too long.
Less convincing, however, were the life-sized projection of the barber’s shop front that flickers across an endless loop of film and the videos of the Oak tree at the centre of Fullwell Cross roundabout in Barkingside. Perhaps a step too far away from the self, these works move away from the fascinating subject of identity to their detriment.
A woven story of the internal self and reality, Wallinger’s first dip of his toe into the Hauser & Wirth machine is triumphant. Not only are the works formally engaging, the resonance of the Freudian concepts behind the work don’t bamboozle, but add to the depth of the work which affirms why he is one of Britain’s most popular contemporary artists.