Michael Landy exhibition ‘Saints Alive’ at National Gallery London

Sassetta, The Stigmatisation of saint Francis 1437, National Gallery, London, one of the paintings which inspired Michael Landy’s sculptures on show at the Gallery

British artist in residence at the National Gallery, Michael Landy has a show of the fruits of his two year stay at the gallery in an exhibition entitled Saints Alive. He was made over life-sized moving sculptures from junk materials of various saints after paintings in the National Gallery.  Visitors are able to push buttons and details of martyrdoms recorded in the paintings come alive, their martyrdoms or penitential gestures are re-enacted. St Jerome in penitence beats his chest with a rock, the martyrdom of St Peter Martyr is brought to life.

It’s undoubtedly a witty and  irreverent show, perhaps a risky one in some ways and those of faith may baulk at saints’ lives and deaths being shown as heaps of sculpted found objects, injected with life rather like the sculptures of artist Jean Tinguely, one of  Landy’s acknowledged sources of  inspiration. However, the sculptures are very much inspired by particular paintings of the saints, St Jerome, the painting by Cosme Tura, or combinations of them, first and foremost, and this may be an oblique but effective method of re-connecting gallery- goers with the narratives of the paintings on show and the faith of those depicted, and of those who painted them.  Furthermore, as Jesuit James Martin recently pointed out in Between Heaven and Mirth, a very witty account of humour and sanctity, the saints could be irreverent and funny. He records St Lawrence, one of those featured in the show, even going so far as to say to his executioners, “take a bit of me I’m well done on this side”, when grilled alive on a gridiron!

The exhibition opened yesterday and there is an book available, too.

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