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Hayward Gallery exhibition explores the human figure in contemporary sculpture
Installation view, The Human Factor, Hayward Gallery 2014, Photo: Linday Nylind.

LONDON.- Spanning the past 25 years, The Human Factor brings together major works by 25 leading international artists who have fashioned new ways of using the figure in contemporary sculpture. In addressing the body, the most frequently revisited subject in art’s history, these artists confront the question of how we represent the 'human' today. Figurative sculpture may be almost as old as the human body, but it is also as fresh and vital as whatever new approaches, materials, techniques and ideas artists apply to the subject.

The Human Factor, the first show of its kind on this scale, focuses on sculpture that explores a variety of social, political, cultural and historical concerns and incorporates diverse references ranging from science fiction to war monuments, from popular photography to art history. The exhibition comprises uncanny images of historical and political figures including Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy, Dick Cheney and Jesus, as well as hauntingly familiar archetypes and enigmatic symbols of consumer culture. Many of these works also pointedly revisit classical and archaic models of art as well as modernist sculpture and Minimalism. Ultimately, these artists treat the human body as a kind of rhetorical figure, a means for staging and exploring the ways that our society constructs identities, social positions and values.

Encompassing a wide array of recent practices from hyper-realistic sculptures to near-abstract assemblages, The Human Factor focuses on works that relate to a human scale. Mirroring the viewer’s own physical presence, these sculpted figures engage visitors in a kind of theatrical confrontation in the gallery. Whether they function as a surrogate for the spectator or as a fellow actor sharing the same stage, they create encounters that can be at once playful, thought-provoking and unsettling.

Highlights of this survey include:
• Paul McCarthy’s That Girl (T.G. Awake), 2012-2013, consists of three hyper-realistic casts of actress Elyse Poppers sitting in slightly different postures with her legs spread open. Conjuring a series of three-dimensional film stills, these sculptures - which were produced with a leading special effects fabricator - achieve an unnerving and confrontational verisimilitude. Also included is McCarthy’s T.G. Elyse, 2011, a four-channel video documenting the intricate fabrication of the sculptures using painstaking processes at the cutting edge of special effects technology.

• Katharina Fritsch’s theatrical ‘space pictures’ feature life-sized cast figures in front of large screen prints of exterior scenes that function like photo backdrops. In Riese und 4. Postkarte (Franken) (Giant and 4th Postcard [Franconia]), 2008, we encounter a tall male figure, holding a club and dressed cave-man style, who stands before a green-tinted mural-sized image of a mountain gorge as if guarding his territory.

• Yinka Shonibare MBE’s Boy on Globe, 2008, is a sculpture from a recent body of work exploring climate change. The unfamiliar colours applied to the globe represent an infrared heat map of areas in which climate change is making a profound impact. Girl Ballerina, 2007 meanwhile, seemingly suggests resistance can exist side by side with apparent cultural assimilation. These two mannequins are dressed in batik fabric costumes which to most, alludes to African heritage, but is actually manufactured in the Netherlands, continuing Shonibare’s characteristic use of materials that alluding to ambiguity and to the hybrid construction of identity.

• Pierre Huyghe’s Liegender Frauenakt (Untilled 2011-2012), 2012, was one of the stand-outs of dOCUMENTA (13) and transforms an art deco sculpture of a reclining nude by replacing its head with a living bee hive, creating an eerie hybrid of nature and culture.

• Cady Noland’s Bluewald, 1989, one of the most iconic works of American art from the past quarter century, explores the intersection of that country’s obsession with both violence and celebrity. The work comprises an enlarged news photo of Lee Harvey Oswald, shown doubled over after being shot by Jack Ruby, that has been silkscreened onto an aluminum panel propped up like a carnival shooting target with a crude wooden support and perforated with several large circular ‘bullet’ holes around Oswald’s midsection and face.

Other artists in this group show include: Paweł Althamer, Frank Benson, Huma Bhabha, Maurizio Cattelan, Urs Fischer, Ryan Gander, Isa Genzken, Rachel Harrison, Georg Herold, Thomas Hirschhorn, Martin Honert, Pierre Huyghe, Jeff Koons, John Miller, Ugo Rondinone, Thomas Schϋtte, Paloma Varga Weisz, Mark Wallinger, Rebecca Warren, Andro Wekua and Cathy Wilkes.

The exhibition is curated by Hayward Gallery Director Ralph Rugoff.

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