Gillick’s art suggests alternatives for the ideology of the built world 

Nov 2012

Liam Gillick, the Turner Prize nominee of 2002, creates artworks in different medium including objects, installations, and writings.  In his relational works, Gillick operates within existing structures and develops the audiences’ association to architectures and the built world in the society – the symbols of civilization.  Through the redefinition of structure and space with abstract objects, the artist (Liam Gillick: Artist’s Talk 2002) provokes audience’s imagination as well as behavior and suggests the possibility for alternatives in the way we think or use the built world.  This paper discusses works of the artist and relates his works with past and contemporary art.

Gillick’s selection of material and forms reminds the audience the structures of where the public’s daily activities take place.  The materials commonly used in Gillick’s works, plexiglas and aluminum, are widely used in architectures and structures of commercial and institutional environment.  Gillick mentioned (O’Hagan 2002, para. 5), the plexiglas and aluminum are also being used in sites of commercial activities like retails, where they are used ‘for renovation and refurbishment’ to make signs, displays, screens and floors.  The artist selects materials that are by nature constructive to create objects that are potentially productive to the space they are displayed in, and supports his claim to Eccles (2012, p.76) about his belief in the necessity [for artists] to pay more effort to the ‘production than consumption’ of contemporary art.  Very few comments have been made to the formal elements of Gillick’s works, Among them Bishop (2004) has commented Gillick’s works looked similar to the installation works of minimalists Donald Judd (Fig. 1).  As their objects shared the grid and rectangular forms and the use of material commonly used for constructions.  Though Gillick’s works are made of similar structural forms and industrial materials, the concerns of Gillick’s works are totally different from that of the minimalists, together with the difference in production strategy and theory, the association to the minimalism is weak.  Without relating himself to the minimalists, Gillick associated his works with the conceptualist tradition to presents art as an activity for communication and exchange as stated by Falconer (2000).

Gillick creates and displays structural objects within an architectural environment associates audience to civilization – represented by the institutions.  In works like Big Conference Centre Middle Management Platform (1998) and Long View Towards a Renovated Facility (2007), Gillick put together multiple translucent colored plexiglas and painted aluminum to compose structures like screens and partitions in infrastructures.  According to Schmickli’s (2003) observation, Gillick’s ‘familiar-looking objects that are materially and formally derived from the world of corporate study-centers, open-plan offices, and conference rooms’.  When the works were placed against the white cube gallery space under fluoresce lightings, the resemblance to a typical office environment suggested by Bishop (2004) was hard to omit.  Besides the material, Gillick’s use of text in his works contributed to the reinforcement the institutional atmosphere. The significance is especially seen in his museum works, in the Literally (2003) exhibition, Gillick installed the text cube Consciens Lobby (2001) in Museum of Modern Art; and in the theanyspacewhatever (2008) exhibition, he created a set of textual aluminum signs titled the Signage System (2008), hanged in various locations inside Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.  Signage is built to function as guides in different spaces.  In the museum spaces already filled with signage, these textual works draw the audience’s attention to their own presence in the institutional environment and the constructions inside.

Gillick provides audience with opportunity to behave and imagine through the construction of his remodeled objects in the exhibition space.  Schmichkli (2003) explained Gillick sees his works as ‘half-objects’ with have potential functions to ‘[engage] and [redefine] the space’; and the presence of the artist’s works in the exhibition spaces provides opportunity for audience to be distracted from the existing architecture and re-think the scenario created by the re-modeled space and the work titles.  As seen in Big Conference Centre Middle Management Platform (1998), the colored plexiglas on the ceiling functioned to create a space underneath it and the title suggested the space can be used for discussion; the work sidetracks audiences from the exhibition space and invite them to image what they can do with the presence of the objects.  In the works for the Literally (2003) exhibition, Gillick (2003) explained his works ‘intended to function as a moment of pause – all backdrop and foreground with an absent central core of ideas to be tweaked and reconfigured by visitors to the space.’  The ‘non-fundamental adjustments’ (Whitechapel Gallery 2002, para. 2) to the existing architectures made by Gillick’s works reforms exhibition spaces to specific set-ups, which the artist describes as ‘[places] for something to happen’ and allow audience to ‘do something’ with the presence of his works (Liam Gillick: Artist’s Talk 2002).  These set-ups are situations or ‘scenarios’ as referred by the artist, where the audiences are invited to relate themselves.  The scenarios required the audience to make sense of the works, people’s reaction to his works is crucial in bringing different outcomes.  Bishop (2004) dissected, Gillick is keen on providing situations for viewers to participate without making criticisms or predefined conclusions; where Spector (2009) commented Gillick as an artist who explores the foundations of the built world and their effects on of behavior.

Having audience behavior as an import element in his work, Gillick is often being compared to or discussed with other artists labeled as the relational artists, who support the merge of art and life.  Such term is raised after art critic Nicolas Bourriaud published his book Relational Aesthetics (2002) where he discussed the form of art practices which ‘takes as their theoretical and practice point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space’ (Bourriaud, p. 113). There have been several group exhibitions done together by the artists with similar belief in the relational aesthetics, and the mentioned theanyspacewhatever (2008) exhibition is one of them.  As described by Smith (2008), artists gathered in the theanyspacewhatever (2008) exhibition to encourage human connections and ‘create an experience of community’.  Among them, the works of Rirkrit Tiravanija, shared likenesses to Gillick’s works in some ways.  The context of the works by Gillick and Tiravanija are different, but in general, works of both artists are about engaging audiences and creating relationship with audience within the exhibition space.  In their works, the physical works seen in the exhibition spaces are ‘carriers’ described by Gillick (Liam Gillick: Artist’s Talk 2002) that helped to create situations to invite participation to make sense of their works, while Gillick creates scenarios using his remodeled structures, Tiravanija creates social-moments using daily–life activities, and the audience are invited to take part in the situations.  In Gillick’s works, relationship is created between the audience and the built work according to their behaviors, the artist’s participation is minimal on site; whereas in Tiravanija’s works, relationship is generated among audiences, and even with the artist.

Gillick suggests possibilities for alternatives in the way we think or use the built world.  The strategy can be seen in the Signage System (2008), where the work is to ‘[play] with the building, [play] with the situation’, explained by Gillick in A Briton for Germany (2009); and the chief curator of the theanyspacewhatever exhibition (2008), Spector described, the signage as an interference with the museum’s existing system and the visitor’s experience.  Some texts are information and functional, and some of the texts are there to provoke ‘new narratives’ by the visitors.  Gillick allows audience to experience and react in their own ways.  For instance, the artist (2003) stated, the diagram on the wall in the Literally (2003) exhibition could be ’the abstraction of a location or setting that echoes an environment where there are still options in terms of direction and development’, the abstract quality of the works allowed openness to trigger imaginations which assisted to encourage the possibility of alternatives in situations.  In the work Signage System (2009), some of the signage that Gillick created did not facilitate the normal function, and this provided a chance for audiences’ to react to the non-functional signage by participating to redefine the function of it.  Gillick’s works are full of possibilities and options, without setting definite answers in his works, though the suggestion of alternatives in the existing structures, Gillick aims to discuss ideology in the society by exhibiting the ‘problems and concerns of [the] world’ (2003).  The artist (Gillick & Schmickli 2003) stressed his works unveil the defects in the social models and provide solutions to improve the social environment with the ‘demonstrations of compromise, strategy, and collapse’.

Gillick investigates the ideology of the constructed world through his objects and installations that resemble the architectures of the modern society.  His relational works might appear minimalistic at first glance, but unlike the minimalism artists, Gillick’s works require audiences’ involvement to make sense.  Sharing similar thinking with the relational artists, Gillick believes in merging art and life.  Gillick sees art as something to develop engagement and redefinition with the space, Schmichkli (2003) interpreted the artist is interested in the ‘applicability’ of art without attempting to define the concept of art.  This suggestion is beyond the modern art’s discussion on what is art but declared the potential role of art in the contemporary world.  The works Gillick creates aimed to initiate the audiences’ association to the built world and suggest the possibilities of alternatives for the social environment and relation with the built world.




Bishop, C 2004, ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’ in October, Fall 2004 Issue 110, October Magazine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, pp. 51-79

Bourriaud, N 2002, Relational Aesthetics, Les Presse Du Reel, Dijon

Choi, E, Trotter, M 2010, ‘Critical Conditions – A Conversation between Liam Gillick and Michael Meredith’, in Architecture at the Edge of Everything Else, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 34-43

Eccles, T 2012, ‘Other People and Their Ideas No. 2 Liam Gillick’, Art Review, Issue 63 Nov,  p. 74-76

Gillick, L 2003, ‘Utopia Station: For a … Functional Utopia’ in Utopia, Whitechapel, London, pp. 154-157

Gillick, L, Schmickli, C 2003, Project 79 Liam Gillick: Literally, exhibition catalogue, 25 September – 1 December, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Judd, D 1965, ‘Specific Objects’ in Art in Theory: An Anthology of Changing Ideas 1900-1990, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 809-813

Smith, R 2008, ‘Museum as Romantic Comedy’ in New York Times, 31 October, The New York Times, New York, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.

A Briton for Germany 2009, video, Arts.21 Deutsche Welle, June 8, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.

Falconer, M 2000, Liam Gillick (Biography), Oxford Art Online, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.

Interview with Liam Gillick 2012, video, FondationBeyeler, September 20, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.

Liam Gillick Interview 2010, video, Alex Mirutziu, August 5, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.

O’Hagan, S 2002, ‘This is not an Art Gallery’ in The Guardian, 5 May, The Guardian, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.

Spector, N 2008-2009, theanyplacewhatever, exhibition website, 24 October – 7 January, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.

Tate London, Liam Gillick: Artist’s Talk 2002, video, November 20, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.

Whitechapel Gallery 2002, Liam Gillick – The Wood Way, Whitechapel Gallery, viewed 3 November 2012, <;.



Image 1

Judd, D, 1967, Untitled (Stack), Lacquer on galvanized iron, Twelve units, each 9 x 40 x 31″, installed vertically with 9″ intervals, The Museum of Modern Art, <;.

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