REVIEW: Ryan Gander at Manchester Art Gallery


Everyone is talking about Ryan Gander at the moment. You really can’t escape him. Walking through his exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, the contemporary artist – notably sans Turner Prize - proves that his popularity is entirely justified.

In conversation, I come to realise he’s a pretty funny guy. Such would be expected from the man who creates moving eyeballs and sculpture replicas of his daughter’s dens. His work seeks to force us to return to our childhood. Indeed, in this current day a childlike sense of wonder and ignorance would remedy all ills, if only temporarily. His work resembles cartoons, such is obvious, but if you scratch beneath the gleaming plastic surface, his comment on the ritualistic truths of human life emerges.

He explores our fetishistic adolescent obsession for collecting in ‘Come on, Think!’ (2011), a painstakingly OCD arrangement of monochromatic photographs which represents the light the front cover of pornographic magazines are exposed to whilst sitting on the shop shelf - an adult theme that also exhibits adolescent pubescent curiosity. The title of the piece, as well as its simplicity in organisation, execution and concept, antagonises and pressures the viewer into profound realisations; his works challenges us to find meaning in our quaint notion of what we call ‘art’. “We must think, not pretend to think” I imagine Gander would say.

I must warn you. There is a danger of either over complicating the simplicity of his spoofs with sanctified theorizations, or simply trying to convince of a complexity, which is not prerequisite in art, although many would have you believe it so. You must try not to do this or you will be entirely missing the point.

His work could very easily be gimmicky, but he avoids this through his pointed exploration of the complicated relationship between author, work and viewer where the rules are constantly being redefined, as is parodied in its curation. Gander the prankster has glued coins to the floor, and in doing so pushed the reset button on jaded art world cynicism by proving that we can still retreat back into our childish wonder and the uninhibited realm of imagination, if we really want to (if we dare to).

His style is inconsistent, as is his medium and artistic practice – it’s all about his ideas. (Not an entirely new concept obviously, but there really is no Shock of the New anymore.) But Gander seems untroubled by his inconsistency – instead he thrives on this infantile resistance to constriction and barriers, to categorisation and expectation, as he continually experiments, discovers and surprises.

As I walk from room to room I feel as though I am turning the pages of Gander’s personal notebook, full to the brim with ideas and possibilities – all of which he executes if only to cross them off his list. Gander is watching me as I walk through this physical embodiment of his imagination… in a way. Installed within the pristine white walls is a pair of animatronic eyes that swivel and follow me as I look through Gander’s ‘ideas’. They blink, their eyebrows furrow in confusion or deep thought as they signify curiosity, surprise and worry – emotions mirrored by the audience as they experience the works in turn.

‘Make every show like it’s your last’ is a rather interesting name for a retrospective, seemingly hinging itself on the tradition of come-back tours and greatest hits albums. But, if only for our sake and the sanity of the human mind, this show will not be his last. He may only be 36, but he has created a hard act for himself to follow.