Culture notes

Less cuddly, more creepy: The Human Factor at the Hayward Gallery

Don't be fooled by the bear on the poster – this survey of modern figurative sculpture features rotting corpses, animal guts and live bees

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

Jeff Koons’s ‘Bear and Policeman’ has been used to advertise the Hayward Gallery’s latest show The Human Factor (until 7 September). But don’t be fooled; this exploration of the human figure is neither cute nor cuddly. It includes photos of rotting corpses, mannequins made from animal guts and live bees. It’s more creepy than kitsch.

The show sets out to survey how artists over the past 25 years have reinvented figurative sculpture. Within the concrete rooms, the curators have installed a mix of diverse pieces. The effect is part morgue, part Madame Tussauds. It works well when sculptures are given ample space: Cathy Wilkes’s installation of three grief-stricken figures has been given an entire room, as has Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Him’ — a praying boy with Hitler’s face.

Many of the other works are crammed together in a puzzling fashion. This is problematic for a sculptural show, given how site-specific an art form it is. Ryan Gander’s ghost-like marble sculpture relinquishes any gravitas by its proximity to Urs Fischer’s ‘Skinny Sunrise’ — a skeleton appearing to do yoga on a park bench (above).

The display is the problem, not the individual works. They feature everything from embalming methods to Baroque woodcarving techniques. Pierre Huyghe’s ‘Liegender Frauenakt’ includes a live beehive, with a nonchalant sign warning visitors that they might be stung. This visceral show is brimming with monstrous creations. It’s simply a shame they cramp each other’s style.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • Terry Field

    Let’s look on the bright side.
    This sort of garbage will be destroyed when ISIS are in Downing Street.
    And that will be a clear turn for the better.