Two Venice Biennales ago, Marc Quinn exhibited a menacing giant orchid at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Quinn has also challenged us to rethink our ideas of bodily beauty. His 12-ton sculpture of a pregnant Alison Lapper, who was born phocomelic (she is armless and has shortened legs), occupied Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth.
On the ground floor of the White Cube, we walk into what looks like a garden centre. A dense agglomeration of plants have been potted and raised up on white plinths. And, on the wall, a quartet of hyper-realistic paintings of flower heads yawn open, their colours screwed up to a fever pitch of intensity.
But step closer and you see that these plants have been turned to gold. They began life as flowering plants, but are in fact bronze simulacra of themselves, and the surfaces are bronze with a patina of copper. We see that these are strange, hybrid creations, flowers that seem to be growing fruits and vegetables (which are not immediately evident, because everything has the same dull gold sheen to it) from their stems. Nature is unnatural here; it has defied our expectations and run mad.
Downstairs, we are confronted by Evolution, a processional of sculptural forms – four facing four, and one at the end. Each one is hewn out of a massive block of warm pink marble. Quinn is challenging us to think about how the human body has been represented in sculpture, the taboos that have governed our taste and our expectations of what we want a sculpture to hide or reveal – move beyond that, and we risk experiencing horror and disgust.
This is a foetus in the making. Each sculpture, as we move up the room, brings us closer to the finished human form within the womb of each slab. Each one is a being coming into being – first, like a tadpole, then a fish, then a being with stunted limbs and giant, lolling head. These sculptures took as their starting point body scans. Quinn is breaking new ground here. He is pushing us into looking at what we do not want to see, yet must.
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