Michael Landy’s Art of Destruction

COLCHESTER, England — Michael Landy is a British artist best-known for a mission by which he systematically inventoried all 7,227 of his private possessions. Then systematically destroyed them.

This 12 months is the 20th anniversary of that installation-cum-performance, “Break Down,” which introduced Landy worldwide fame as “The Man Who Destroyed Everything.” It isn’t usually that conceptual works of artwork that now not bodily exist are nonetheless being talked about 20 years later.

But a show to have a good time the 20th anniversary of “Break Down,” in addition to a brand new set up by Landy, on present at Firstsite, a gallery southern England, present the artist remains to be a prescient critic of consumerism. The exhibition, known as “Michael Landy’s Welcome to Essex” after the county surrounding the gallery the place the artist grew up, runs by means of Sept. 5.

“The Essex Way,” a 2021 work protecting greater than 450 ft of a wall at Firstsite.Credit…Michael Landy; DACS, London/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

“It’s a good time for his work to get new exposure,” stated Julian Stallabrass, a professor of trendy and modern artwork on the Courtauld Institute in London, and creator of “High Art Lite: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art.”

“Michael was, I think, always one of the most interesting artists of the Y.B.A. grouping,” stated Stallabrass, referring to the era of Young British Artists that energized the modern artwork scene within the 1990s and early 2000s. “Not just because of his anti-commercial stance — or rather that his work was often about commerce and its consequences — but because of his long reflection on social class.”

“Break Down” was produced by the London-based nonprofit ArtAngel in a disused division retailer on Oxford Street, then Europe’s busiest procuring district. There, Landy spent two weeks in cost of an elaborate recycling facility repurposed to interrupt down, pulp and granulate every little thing he owned, together with the entire archive of his artworks, his file assortment and his Saab 900 Turbo.

At the tip of the method, witnessed by about 50,000 guests, he was left with six tons of bagged-up waste. It was buried in a landfill website in Essex, the place a lot of London’s rubbish is dumped.

“Consumerism has become the No. 1 ideology of our time,” Landy, 58, stated on a latest tour of the anniversary exhibition. “We end up with all this stuff,” he added. “I wanted to take that apart.”

Like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry and different Y.B.A.s, Landy got here from a working-class background. He studied on the prestigious Goldsmiths artwork college in London within the late 1980s, at a time earlier than the introduction of tuition charges for larger schooling started dissuading many college students from lower-income households.

“Consumerism has become the No. 1 ideology of our time,” stated Landy. “I wanted to take that apart.”Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Unlike Hirst, Emin and Perry, whose imposingly priced works have frequently featured at worldwide artwork festivals and auctions, Landy has by no means courted business success. The highest value paid for his works at public sale stays $36,000, given in 2002 for his sculpture “Costermonger’s Stall.”

But in 1997, the Tate Gallery acquired his “Scrapheap Services,” a room-size set up by which a fictional “people-cleansing” firm sweeps up human-shaped refuse and passes it by means of a shredding machine. The work’s sale gave Landy a measure of monetary safety.

“It was the first time that, materially speaking, I was ahead in my life,” stated Landy, who celebrated his success by shopping for a Savile Row go well with and the Saab that might turn into half of “Break Down.”

But doubts set in. “Is that what I strove to do? I’ve got a Saab car and a Richard James suit. What does that all mean?” Landy recalled asking himself. “The idea popped into my head that I should destroy all my worldly belongings.”

ArtAngel had already delivered to life acclaimed artwork initiatives like Rachel Whiteread’s “House” (1993) and Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster 4” (1994), and Landy stated that collaborating with its co-director James Lingwood was essential to creating “Break Down” occur. It took three years of planning. Listing his possessions took a complete 12 months.

The efficiency of “Break Down,” in 2001. Over two weeks, Landy destroyed all his possessions in a disused central London division retailer.Credit…Michael Landy; DACS, London/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Thomas Dane Gallery and Artangel; Donald Smith

“Oxford Street was the missing ingredient,” stated Landy, recalling the vacant C&A retailer that he used to destroy all his belongings. “It’s where people come to consume things, the latest items.”

“People were angry, people were bemused. They were being given lots of consumer choice, but this was mine,” he added. “I felt I was witnessing my own death.”

Landy and ArtAngel agreed that none of it could turn into merchandise. “It was about a total erasure of possessions from his life,” Lingwood stated. The artist was going again to being somebody who owned nothing and had some debt.

“He had a roof over his head. We bought him some clothes. Probably a friend of his gave him some cash. He went home to Gillian,” added Lingwood, referring to the artist Gillian Wearing, who’s now Landy’s spouse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Landy produced no artwork for a 12 months after “Break Down.”

“Herb Robert,” one of the primary works Landy produced after a post-“Break Down” inventive hiatus.Credit…Michael Landy; DACS, London/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Paragon“Common Toad Flax” (2002)Credit…Michael Landy; DACS, London/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Paragon

Then, in 2002, he returned to drawing, the medium that had engrossed him as a baby. He made a collection of 12 painstakingly noticed etchings of weeds, of “little things that grow in cracks in the street,” for Paragon Press, a specialist writer of prints.

“It’s an allegory for rebirth,” stated Charles Booth-Clibborn, the writer’s founder, describing Landy’s “Nourishment” etchings. “They were like portraits of Londoners,” he added. “These plants exist in urban environments where it’s hard for plants to survive. But they do thrive, and he celebrated them.”

In latest years, Landy has returned to large-scale installations. In 2010, he created an enormous metallic and Perspex trash can for failed works of artwork on the South London Gallery. And in 2018, within the aftermath of what he noticed as Britain’s self-destructive vote to go away the European Union, he arrange “Open for Business,” a “Brexit kiosk” promoting “100 percent British products” comparable to Union Jack-decorated mugs and condoms on the inaugural Riga Biennial in Latvia.

“Open for Business,” a “Brexit kiosk” promoting comparable to Union Jack-decorated mugs and condoms, that Landy arrange on the inaugural Riga Biennial in Latvia.Credit…Michael Landy; DACS, London/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Thomas Dane Gallery and Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art; Andrejs Strokins

Landy’s native Essex included two of Britain’s 5 districts with the very best votes for Brexit within the 2016 referendum. Ever for the reason that Thatcherite 1980s, when the county turned a bastion of working-class Conservatism, it has fallen sufferer in British standard tradition to derogatory “Essex Man” and “Essex Girl” caricatures, depicting its inhabitants as brash, uneducated and materialistic.

In addition to trying again to “Break Down” in Colchester, Landy is investigating these stereotypes in a three-room set up about Essex, a spot that the artist payments as “England’s Most Misunderstood County.”

The present contains aerial footage of native rubbish dumps, banners with Essex-themed tabloid headlines, and trash-filled dumpsters piled with TV units displaying interviews and comedies that characteristic Essex. It has divided native guests to the gallery in Colchester, the historic college city that was as soon as the capital of Roman Britain.

Stephen Callely, 60, a retired instructor, wasn’t impressed. “It doesn’t challenge us. We can snigger at it,” he stated after visiting the exhibition this month.

Yet Stella Clarke, 9, was intrigued the “Break Down” show, significantly a wall that reproduced a piece from Landy’s stock of possessions, such as “C542: Sainsbury’s single blue cotton/polyester sock.”.

“It was a very strange thing he did,” stated Clarke. “Maybe he was saying he didn’t need all this stuff.”

The stock of objects destroyed in “Break Down” embody Landy’s full archive of earlier artworks, his file assortment and his Saab 900 Turbo.Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Landy, too, was fascinated by artwork as a baby. At 15, he had a scratchboard work included in an episode of “Vision On,” an academic BBC TV present by which youngsters have been invited to ship in work and drawings. Yet when he requested for the piece again, the BBC knowledgeable him it couldn’t be returned.

“They always destroyed the work,” Landy stated. “That was the beginning.”