“Trash” Artist Abraham Cruzvillegas Takes on Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

He launches a new chapter for the world’s most famous artist commission.

Installation view of the exhibition "Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites 2013" at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery

After a two-year hiatus, Tate Modern’s ever-popular Turbine Hall commission is back. Abraham Cruzvillegas will inaugurate the new series, which comes courtesy of a new sponsor, Hyundai Motors.

One of Mexico’s best-known conceptual artists and a former student of Gabriel Orozco, Cruzvillegas has made a name for himself with his makeshift sculptures and installations of found objects, including trash such as discarded cardboard boxes, CDs, and bits of wood.

Speaking with artnet News, project curator Mark Godfrey explained Tate’s decision: “We believe that he’s an artist who has a brilliant approach to material, who is asking very current questions about our relationship with materials: questions around ecology, economy and so on.”

Cruzvillegas certainly has big shoes to fill. The Turbine Hall commission was launched, like Tate Modern, in 2000. Its illustrious list of alumni include Bruce Nauman, Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, and Olafur Eliasson, to name but a few.

For his dealer, Thomas Dane Gallery’s partner François Chantala, the artist was “both the most obvious and the most maverick choice.” “I know no other artist who can meld Punk and Modernism, the vernacular and the universal, mundane materials and academic practices with such eloquence,” he said.

The cathedral-like Turbine Hall─once the heart of the former electric power plant─is an obvious challenge. So is the fact that the space is essentially an oversized corridor, in which visitors pass through to reach the collections and exhibition upstairs, not necessarily expecting an art experience then and there.

Nonetheless, most of the Turbine Hall commissions have been huge successes─and not always for the reasons the artists might have anticipated. Eliasson’s Weather Project (2003), which involved a half disc of light reflected in a mirrored ceiling, saw throngs of enthusiasts lying on the floor and spelling out words only visible high above them. Although sometimes decried as a populist stunt, Carsten Höller’s slides also wooed the crowds.

Carsten Holler, Test SiteCourtesy of Tate Photography

Carsten Höller, Test Site
Courtesy of Tate Photography

The Turbine Hall commission has been a real game changer both within London and across the art world at large. Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick, who co-curated the initial Turbine Hall Commission series, told artnet News, “The sheer scale, sense of immersion and of surprise─coupled with the fact that it is free of charge─has made a tremendous impact.

“There is also some ambivalence about the commissions within the arts community,” she added, alluding to its detractors: “Has art become spectacle? Could it suffer from gigantism? and so on … Nonetheless it has converted generations of uninitiated visitors to the viewing and appreciation of contemporary art.”

Initially inspired, according to Blazwick, by some of the DIA Foundation’s projects, and the rise of major site-specific installations, the Turbine Hall commissions rippled across the global museum world. As Tate curator Godfrey pointed out, MoMA’s Atrium and Paris’s Monumenta program are only two examples of the way institutions have finally adopted large-scale sculptures and installations, which until the early noughties were mainly the remit of art biennials.

Hyundai Motors will be footing the bill for the next 11 years, which represents “the longest upfront commitment Tate has ever worked with,” said Godfrey. Although Tate hasn’t confirmed the exact magnitude of the sponsorship, the South Korean group is said to have pledged £6 million. If true, that is substantially more than its predecessor Unilever, which paid a reported £4.4 million for the privilege of having its name attached to the prestigious commission. This is no small feat, particularly considering Hyundai Motors’ staggering profit decline in recent years.

While the arrival of the new sponsor might coincide with a slight shift in the kind of artists commissioned for the Turbine Hall, the core principle will stay the same. “Some of the artists that might have been selected during the 10 years of Unilever might not necessarily be the kind of artists we look to in the next 10 years, but there are overlaps as well,” Godfrey explained.

“With both Unilever and Huyndai, we look at artists who find new way of thinking about space, about the public, about experience, about material, and that will really continue with the Hyundai commissions,” he concluded.

Cruzvillegas’s installation will open on October 13, 2015.

For more coverage of Tate Modern, see Racy Marlene Dumas Painting Won’t Travel to Tate ModernMatisse Show Attracts 562,622 Visitors to Tate Modern, and Matisse Cut-Outs at Tate Modern Rewrite Art History.

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