Andy Holden @ Kettle’s Yard

JESS MIDDLETON-PUGH is impressed by the silliness of Andy Holden’s current exhibition, which lacks pretension and revels in fun.

andy holden Art art exhibition chewy cosmos thingly time jess middleton-pugh Kettle's Yard modern art

Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time, Kettle’s Yard, 14th May-10th July

I like contemporary art, I really do, but I have a confession to make. Before visiting exhibitions I consciously prepare myself to see something that may be a little bit silly. Additionally, I prepare myself to pretend that it isn’t a bit silly, aware that I will merely be perpetuating the cliché of the art historian, wandering around a gallery and mumbling incoherent statements about things that aren’t really there.

But, one of the joys of Holden’s exhibition is that it is a bit silly, and it revels in this. It isn’t trivially silly, in the sense of a serious artist undermining himself by exhibiting an empty shoe box (Gabriel Orozco, I’m looking at you), but in that the viewer can easily imagine Holden having some fun making his work. He is a young artist, and it shows, as I failed to detect even a whiff of cynicism as I wandered around the gallery – an odour which tends to cling to the work of older artists like last night’s takeaway.

The strange title of the exhibition comes from Holden’s exploration of the ‘thinglyness’ of objects, a concept I quite like as it suggests a move away from serious art ‘objects’ and towards the appreciation of ‘things’. There are quite a lot of things dotted around to look at, and ‘things’ is an accurate name for them, as they seem to resist traditional labels such as ‘sculpture’.

Holden obviously likes playing with material;, his ‘stalagmites’ of layered coloured plaster (strangely reminiscent of an extremely large ice cream sundae) make me think that he may be trying to recapture a misspent youth.

Holden uses materials which are not used often enough in art: melted vinyl records, old beer bottles, plaster of Paris, coloured wool, and googly eyes. The records in particular are really novel. What at first glance appears to be ceramic bowls suspended by chains from the ceiling turn out to be old records that have been melted and moulded into bowl shapes. These made me want to head straight to a charity shop and then return home to make a sticky black mess in my oven.

He uses cut outs from Peanuts cartoon strips as a decorative motif, and they also appear in other nooks and crannies around the gallery, almost as if the artist is giving the viewer permission to actually smile at his work.

There is a musical accompaniment to the exhibition that is also less serious than it first seems. It is the music of Holden’s band, The Grubby Mitts, playing sounds from an amusement arcade on the violin, cello, piano, and clarinet. What first appears to be (to my plebeian ears) a kind of postmodern, atonal composition, actually becomes a quite pleasant rendition of The Simpsons’ theme tune, or the Sugababes, or just the melodies of a fruit machine. I may actually YouTube them.

This exhibition is anything but pretentious, contrary to common assumptions about modern art. Whilst the records are described as ‘fragile painted bowls hanging down like silent notes,’ I think it is okay to see them as fun and interesting ‘things’, which demonstrate that there are still artists out there who just like making stuff.