The Human Factor at the Hayward Gallery

What links Jesus, Hitler and a man with a beehive for a head? They all feature in the Hayward Gallery’s new sculpture show, that’s what. Time Out gets under the skin of ‘The Human Factor’



Add +
'That Girl (TG Awake)', 2012–'13, by Paul McCarthy

'That Girl (TG Awake)', 2012–'13, by Paul McCarthy © the artist, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Bodies. We've all got one, apart from baddies like Krang from the 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'. So it's not surprising that our variously taut and wobbly bits have provided inspiration for artists since creativity's mud-flinging beginnings. Nor is it surprising that we find looking back at ourselves endlessly fascinating. As a subject for sculpture, though, the human body was noticeable by its absence for much of the twentieth century. This, reckons Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery director and curator of 'The Human Factor', is down to modernism. With its love of the fast, new and machine made, cutting-edge art during much of the last century tended towards abstraction. 'There were a few people still working with the figure, like Giacometti and Picasso,' says Rugoff. 'But the body seemed like a relic of the past. By the time you hit the 1960s with minimalism and installation art, it pretty much disappears altogether. '

When it returned in the 1980s, figurative sculpture no longer looked like the stuff that had come before. There was Jeff Koons employing Italian craftsmen to produce not polychrome religious statues but kitsch works like 'Bear and Policeman' (1988). There was Katharina Fritsch (of Trafalgar Square's blue cock fame) making monochrome sculptures that came with their own photographic backdrops. 'The work isn't just representing a body and it isn't a portrait either,' explains Rugoff. 'It becomes a point of departure for looking at and thinking about how we respond to images of humans. There was a shift from all those traditional sculptural questions about surface and mass and volume. Spatial dynamics had been replaced by an interest in trying to deal with this large cultural and social landscape, our relationship to consumer culture and a world dominated by photographic media.'

'The work isn't just representing a body and it isn't a portrait either'

If artists in 'The Human Factor' look back, they do so with a quizzical eye. For Pierre Huyghe, a neoclassical subject like a reclining nude is given a working beehive for a head, turning the figure into what Rugoff describes 'part of an open system '.

'Him', 2001, by Maurizio Cattelan

'Him', 2001, by Maurizio Cattelan © the artist Courtesy Maurizio Cattelan's Archive

Appropriately, much of the work in the show has a sense of time and decomposition built in, from Urs Fischer's candle sculptures (collectors get to light the wick if they choose), to Pawel Althamer's disintegrating self-portrait (see below). And while there are works that pull few punches, like Cady Noland's 'Bluewald' (1989), which depicts Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as a fairground shooting target, there are plenty that trade in ambiguity, including Maurizio Cattelan's 'Him' (2001), a sculpture of a kneeling child given the adult head of Adolf Hitler.

Perhaps the most disquieting work of all is Paul McCarthy's 'That Girl (TG Awake)', three sculptures depicting a naked female figure in three slightly different poses, each sitting on a glass table with her legs open. 'It's the most realistic looking depiction of a human being I've ever seen,' says Rugoff. 'You really just keep waiting for the figure to breathe.' Unnerving hyperreality makes sharing a space with the work seem like a huge invasion of privacy. 'It raises questions about where our comfort zone lies in terms of voyeurism,' says Rugoff. 'I think if people went into that room alone they might not have an issue with it. But when other people are looking at you looking at the sculpture, it's something else. So your own performance is an important element in a lot of these works because they most are inherently theatrical. You start to ask: "is this pornographic? Is this too explicit?"'

Such uncomfortable questions, of course, are part of what makes the show so human. As Rugoff says: 'It's definitely not Madame Tussauds.'

Still lives: standout works from 'The Human Factor' exhibition

  • Pawel Althamer

    'Monika and Pawel', 2002 (detail)

    © the artist. Image courtesy Foksal Gallery Foundation

    The artist and his wife become a twentyfirst- century Adam and Eve – distracted by technology. Made from animal intestines, the work is decomposing before your eyes.

    Pawel Althamer
  • Frank Benson

    'Human Statue', 2005

    © the artist. Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York

    Frank Benson
  • Mark Wallinger

    'Ecce Homo', 1999

    © Mark Wallinger. Photo: John Riddy

    Mark Wallinger
  • Isa Genzken

    Untitled, 2012

    Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth, London and Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne. Photo: Alex Delfanne

    Isa Genzken
  • Ryan Gander

    'Tell my mother not to worry (ii)', 2012

    © the artist/Lisson Gallery

    Modelled on his daughter playing ghosts with a bedsheet, Gander’s marble resin sculpture
    symbolises childhood innocence but also nods to Victorian funerary art.

    Ryan Gander
  • Yinka Shonibare MBE

    'Girl Ballerina', 2007

    © Yinka Shonibare MBE. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman and DACS. All rights reserved.

    Yinka Shonibare MBE
  • Urs Fischer

    'Skinny Sunrise', 2000

    © the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich

    Urs Fischer
  • Maurizio Cattelan

    'Now', 2004

    © the artist. Courtesy Maurizio Cattelan's Archive. Photo: Andrè Morin

    Cattelan, who once worked in a morgue, places a sculptural likeness of John F Kennedy in a coffin. It’s meant as a form of closure, to ‘interrupt this cycle of eternal reincarnation in the news’.

    Maurizio Cattelan

Pawel Althamer

'Monika and Pawel', 2002 (detail)

© the artist. Image courtesy Foksal Gallery Foundation

The artist and his wife become a twentyfirst- century Adam and Eve – distracted by technology. Made from animal intestines, the work is decomposing before your eyes.

Users say


Head to our Art homepage

Find reviews and listings of London's best museum and gallery exhibitions

Read more

Top art features

London art exhibitions calendar

A handy calendar of the must-see art shows coming to town this year

Art interviews

We talk to the biggest names and emerging talent in the art world

Latest art reviews

Find out what our critics make of London's new exhibitions

Top 10 art exhibitions

Our critics' pick of the must-see art exhibitions in town this season

Read our art interviews

Katrín Sigurðardóttir

The Icelandic artist tells us about her grotto-like installation

Doug Aitken

We talk to the man behind the Barbican's spectacular 'Station to Station'

Richard Wentworth

What's one of our greatest sculptors doing making a giant painting for a car park roof in Peckham?

Fiona Tan

The Amsterdam-based artist known for her immersive film installations talks to Time Out about her two London shows: ‘Inventory’, which takes inspiration from the eclectic Sir John Soane’s Museum, and ‘Ghost Dwellings’, an installation which focuses on natural and economic disasters in Detroit, Cork and Japan.  You don’t live in London, so what attracted you to Sir John Soane’s Museum?‘I noticed that when I was preparing for a show in Rome I kept thinking about Soane’s. I had been doing a lot of research into collections and considering how long we’ve had public museums, and his place is very much a starting point to think about that. And of course, it’s fantastic.’ What aspects of the museum did you want to focus on?‘I focused on the areas (where) he hung what he called his “marbles”: all the architectural fragments and things he collected from ancient Rome and Greece. I’m not interested in trying to replicate the museum. Why should I? It’s a unique place and everyone should go – and everyone does, I think. Instead, I was very interested in the idea of the original and the copy, because there are a lot of plaster casts on display. It got me thinking about the medium.’ Is that why you chose to shoot the film on six different formats?‘Basically I decided to choose not to choose. Usually when I’m preparing a piece I make tests with different cameras and I thought maybe it’s interesting to bring that to the forefront in ‘Inventory’ – the fact that there are all these mediums a