David Shrigley: Brain Activity, Hayward Gallery,
London

The master of whimsy wears his art-school credentials on his sleeve, but his ideas feel derivative and the jokes wear thin

Even more than any of his contemporaries, David Shrigley forces us to ask the Big Question: is it art? Shrigley, 43, is best known for his newspaper cartoons – scratchy, naively drawn figures in black and white, usually with a deadpan legend attached. One that sticks in the mind, for some reason, is a pig with the words “I’m a pig” written on its side. It is not particularly funny, but then nor is it meant to be. Shrigley’s drawings have a higher aim than that. Their maker went to art school, ergo they are art.

Or are they? To answer that question, it might help to mull over the range of the word “conceptualism” as you walk around Shrigley’s new show at the Hayward Gallery. Jeremy Deller, his more-or-less exact contemporary, conceptualises on a grand scale. Deller’s re-enactments of miners’ strikes and brass band ensembles are vast in scale and call for the participation of dozens – sometimes hundreds – of people. (A retrospective of his work will open downstairs from Shrigley’s on 22 February.) By contrast, Martin Creed makes his art out of almost nothing – a light bulb going on and off, new marble cladding on a stairwell, someone running in a gallery. Creed’s work is so reticent that it seems scarcely to exist. Shrigley’s takes this tendency a step further by suggesting that it may not be art at all.

If you want to ponder this comparison, then start with Light Switch (2007), an animated cartoon by Shrigley in which a finger flicks a light switch on and off. With each flick, the projector showing the cartoon lights up or dims. The piece is, presumably, meant as a take on Creed’s notoriously Turner-prize-winning Work No. 227, although whether it is, as the catalogue holds, “an affectionate nod” or something sharper is hard to say.

Creed is not the only subject of Shrigley’s ambiguous homage. The misspellings, crossings-out and childish hand of his cartoons has the feel of Tracey Emin; a crumbling molar called What Decay Looks Like, and an anatomical diagram in which the organs have been renamed – the heart is labelled “clog”, the willy “chimney” – seem to be aimed squarely at Damien Hirst. Another animation, of a Shrigley stick-man tucked up in bed and snoring, is some kind of play on AndyWarhol’s Sleep. The question in all these is of tone of voice – of what Shrigley thinks about contemporary art.

It is, on the other hand, a big question, and one with no clear answer. A surprising thing about this show is the breadth of David Shrigley’s practice. It is easy to think of him as a one-trick pony, a maker of gnomic cartoons. One wall of one room is given over to these. For the rest, the Hayward’s show is made up of works that seem, at first glance, oddly un-Shrigley-ish.

Among much else, there is a staircase-shaped plinth holding a dozen pairs of ceramic wellington boots; a taxidermised Jack Russell holding a placard that says I’M DEAD; a tiny couple, fashioned from bits of a hat-stand, having missionary sex on the bonnet of a car; a vitrine containing what look like the relics of a martyred saint; and a dozen or so broadswords and dirks, hung in a circle as on the wall of a Scottish Berni Inn. There is a gridded metal door, wrought with the legend “Do not linger by the gate”, through which visitors must pass to get from one room to another. Outside, on the Hayward’s riverside terrace, is a word-sculpture that spells out the message LOOK AT THIS.

As with the show’s subtitle – Brain Activity – the last of these points to the playing of some kind of clever game. Look At This is title and object, cause and effect; in structuralist terms, it is signifier and signified. Shrigley’s message, oblique and easily overlooked, is nonetheless clear. I have been to art school, it says. Dismiss me at your peril.

This is interesting enough as far as it goes; the trouble is, it doesn’t go very far. For all his branching out into molars/broadswords/ copulating couples/ceramic wellies, Shrigley never really gets away from being a cartoonist. Each work is a one-liner, and the line is always the same: Am I anything more than I seem? As you walk around his Hayward show, you have the sense of being gently played with. This is engaging at the beginning, but the novelty soon wears off. By the time you get to the headless ostrich – no brain activity there – it is all rather annoying. I should wait until Deller’s show opens before visiting the Hayward.

To 13 May (020-7960 4200)

Next Week

Charles Darwent comes face to face with Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery

Art Choice

Hanne Darboven brings her systematically beautiful work to London’s Camden Arts Centre (to 18 Mar). Alternatively, you can get lost in the woods with David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture, which brings together his paintings, and iPad prints, of Yorkshire landscape at the Royal Academy (to 9 Apr).

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit