Marc Quin, Breath, 2012 (Isola de San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice)
My summer trip to Venice – being a holiday and all – included some things that simply weren’t part of the biennale at all. I’m no longer entirely sure why one of those things was visiting the Marc Quinn exhibition at Fondazione Giorgio Cini. I’ve liked some of Quinn’s work well enough in the past and I guess I was curious. Plus, the exhibition announced itself in that one of the works on show outside the Fondazione Giorgio Cini building was an 11m tall sculpture. Or, more accurately, an 11m tall inflatable version of an earlier Quinn sculpture. This time in a not at all fetching shade of pink.
Alison Lapper Pregnant, 2005 (Trafalgar Square, London)
When Quinn’s sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant was shown on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square it worked for me. A white marble figurative sculpture, it inhabited the space in a way that seemed both highly appropriate, given the neoclassical architecture that surrounded it, and oddly uncomfortable. The plinth was made for a figurative sculpture of course but this is the domain of famous men (and in the case of this plinth, of famous men on horses). More challenging though was the questions the sculpture – along with other works made by Quinn at that time (the artist showed a number of marble statues of people with missing limbs, either by birth or amputation, in the sculpture galleries of the V&A as part of the exhibition Give and Take in 2004) – raised about how we define beauty, how our ideas about it change over time and about the way the ravages of time are in evidence on classical statuary rendered limbless by the passage of time.
Breath – the giant inflatable reworking of Alison Lapper Pregnant – seems to me to disengage itself from those debates and position itself instead as a challenge to its location. There is a showiness to its form that speaks not of classical sculpture and notions of beauty but of public spectacle so that the moment it creates is less “wow, look at that!” and more “what the fuck?”.
Breath at the Paralymic Opening Ceremony, London 2012
And if that sense of spectacle seems familiar, well, that’s because it is: Breath made its first appearance as a centrepiece of the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games during London 2012. In that context, its form worked as spectacular rather than spectacle. In Venice, to me at least, it take on a slightly comic air; there’s something about the pinkness that’s vaguely reminiscent of Matt Lucas’s giant baby. And not in a good way.