Thomas Houseago: What Went Down

Thomas Houseago, whose works draw reference to Star Wars, cartoons, rock album covers and numerous art movements including Futurism, Modernism, Cubism, and Minimalism, as well as the Renaissance, has quickly become a recognizable figure in contemporary art. The book What Went Down accompanies Houseago’s first major solo exhibition in a UK public gallery, at Modern Art Oxford.

What Went Down, Houseago’s first monograph, effectively confirms the artist’s public significance. Essays written by Rudi Fuchs, previous director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and Lisa Le Feuvre, head of sculpture studies at the Henry Moore Institute, provide an art historical perspective on his works. A conversation between Houseago and Modern Art Oxford Director Michael Stanley gives some insight into the artist’s processes. The book’s images, some vibrantly extending to the edge of the large (over one-foot tall) heavy-stock pages, portray Houseago’s over-scaled plaster, wood, and bronze creations in larger-than-life splendor (or at least to the extent possible in a book recreation of his large-scale forms).

The layout of What Went Down is especially interesting. Pages of monotone crouching plaster figures (the vast majority of works in the book were created from 2007–2010) are intersected with frightening close-ups of the creatures that occupy Houseago’s powerful, fantastical world (the detail shot of Quake Mass, for example, is breath-taking). Many of the book’s standard frontal photographic images are complemented by a side or back view that reveals unfinished, exposed, or two-dimensional features unique in Houseago’s sculptures. Midway through the book is a section of artists’ drawings. Printed on a higher tooth, matte paper, these reproduced working sketches highlight the artistic process—which are a significant aspect of Houseago’s works—and are an intriguing addition to What Went Down.

Some reviews of Houseago’s works criticize the artist for being too referential to the history of modern art, and Fuchs’s essay addresses the tendency for the viewer to immediately look for a way to contextualize new, startling works in order to fit into an understood artistic landscape. Le Feuvre’s essay, “Problems of Things and Objects,” complements Fuchs’s nicely. At its close, she perfectly summarizes the humor and intrigue that resonate with sculptures that “force art history out of art history, leaving it dirty, awkward, and new.”

On October 23rd, the three-destination exhibition What Went Down will close at its final venue, the Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière in France.

–Kara Kaczmarzyk

Book Description:

Thomas Houseago: What Went Down

by Thomas Houseago, Lisa Le Feuvre, Rudi Fuchs, and Michael Stanley
240 pages, illustrated throughout, $70
Modern Art Oxford/Lund Humphries, 2011
ISBN: 1901352501

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