The twentieth century generated duelling crescendos of confident Modernist art and hitherto unimaginable human violence. A stalling of artistic confidence in our new millennium may have been inevitable. The career of conceptual artist Martin Creed (b.1968) illustrates this hesitation, which is perhaps best expressed in Work No. 232, comprising the words, ‘the whole world + the work = the whole world’, originally affixed in neon to the entablature of Tate Britain to inaugurate the museum’s renaming (from the Tate Gallery of British Art) in the year 2000.
Work No. 232 could be read as rebuffing the cultural ‘works’ within the museum, which add nothing of justifying substance to the global status quo. Romans 3:20 is a similar neon message irrevocably affixed to the annals of human striving: ‘no human being will be justified in his sight by works’.
This is not to say Creed’s art lacks a positive analogue corresponding to the latter section of Romans 3. Work No. 203, ‘EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT’ was another neon message appended to Tate Britain’s entablature. The work was originally conceived for the Clapton Portico in east London, and Creed explicitly attributes its inspiration to the Salvation Army ‘barracks’ that formerly occupied the ruined and then repaired building (Creed 2006). Creed’s message was deliberately placed as a palimpsest over the word ‘SALVATION’ that once covered the same entablature, as if to translate the word into a modern idiom.
It could be mindless optimism or just a cliché. It could even betray a certain anxiety. On the other hand, perhaps this ‘gospel’ side of Creed’s message, when brought into conversation with Romans 3:21–26, might be understood as a translation of the crucified God’s words to Julian of Norwich (1342–1416): ‘All things shall be well’ (2006: 23).
When both of Creed’s works were installed in Tate Modern, moreover, this law/gospel encapsulation of the tension in Romans 3 occupied the same building at once.
Creed, Martin. 2010. Martin Creed: Works (New York: Thames and Hudson)
Julian of Norwich. 1999. Revelations of Divine Love (New York: Penguin Classics)
TheEYE: Martin Creed. 2006. (Illuminations media)
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11no one understands, no one seeks for God.
12All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
no one does good, not even one.”
13“Their throat is an open grave,
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15“Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16in their paths are ruin and misery,
17and the way of peace they do not know.”
18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. 28For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith. 31Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.