Horses For Courses
A Visit to Wallinger World
Text: Mike von Joel | Images: Mark Wallinger
THE CHIGWELL-BORN artist Mark Wallinger (b. 1959) might well be described – to use that quaint post-war expression – as one of the ‘awkward squad’. This is an essentially British characteristic which denotes, amongst other things, a refusal to follow predetermined routes through life, but to forge a path of one’s own, however perilous this might become.
Wallinger’s star has risen and fallen repeatedly in the critical arena. A student at Chelsea School of Art and later Goldsmiths, he went on to be included in the Young British Artists II show at the Saatchi Gallery in 1993 and in the seminal Royal Academy Sensation exhibition in 1997. Not a few casual observers thought that Wallinger was one of those many YBAs who had somehow ‘lucked’into celebrity without a body of work to merit it. However, the one bit of luck Wallinger did have was to catch the eye of the perceptive dealer, Anthony Reynolds, who has championed his work since the 1980’s.
In 1999, Wallinger’s Ecco Homo was the first work to occupy the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, a life-sized statue of a Christ figure placed at the very front edge of the massive plinth. This proved a popular work and was later shown at the 2001 Venice Biennale when Wallinger represented Britain. But it was State Britain, installed at Tate Britain inJanuary 2007, which reinforced, once and for all, Wallinger’s importance in British Art. A meticulous reproduction of the late peace campaigner Brian Haw’s protest display outside the Houses of Parliament, Wallinger employed 15 people for 6 months and spent £90,000 to recreate it. The original, made from donated paintings, banners and toys, had been confiscated by the police under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The whole sociology and political ramifications of the Haw story chimed with Wallinger’s almost religious interpretation of one man’s lone stand against the might of the system. Mark Wallinger rightly won the 2007 Turner Prize for the installation.
This is the first comprehensive survey on the work of Mark Wallinger and Martin Herbert is a safe pair of hands. From Wallinger’s early career in the 1980’s to the infamous White Horse project at Ebbs Fleet (or Angel of the South) launched in 2009 to a great fanfare – currently it is £10 million over budget and not completed – Herbert presents an even handed appreciation of Mark Wallinger’s art and philosophy. A first class text published to the usual exemplary standards of Thames & Hudson. A timely review of the YBA phenomenon accessed through one of its leading talents.