Work No. 232: the whole world + the work = the whole world, by Martin Creed

Martin Creed

Work No. 232: the whole world + the work = the whole world, 2000, Neon lights and metal, Unconfirmed: 50 x 1550 cm, Tate Gallery, London, Presented by the Patrons of New Art [Special Purchase Fund] 2001, T07769, © Martin Creed. All rights reserved / DACS, London / ARS, New York © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY

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Apart from Works

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Matthew Milliner

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’ (Romans 3:20).

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.

 

References

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)