Sunday, 31 May 2009
Chris Ofili and David Adjaye | The Upper Room 1999-2002
Has religion become the new sex in the visual arts? It rather seemed so since at about the end of 2002. It was then that Chris Ofili’s The Upper Room, an extraordinary, room-size installation which has now been re-created in collaboration with the architect David Adjaye at Tate Britain, was first shown at the Victoria Miro Gallery in East London.
Ofili’s work consists of 12 paintings of rhesus macaque monkeys, six to a wall, in a long, low-lit, chapel-like space. Each monkey holds up a goblet, and faces towards a large painting at the high-altar end of the room, also of a monkey, but this one is much larger and less determinate in its shape. In fact, it barely has any features at all, merely a ghostly, glittery outline. The title of the piece points with some determination in the direction of Christ’s Apostles and the Last Supper.
Ofili’s work has the odour of sanctity about it — we approach the room along a narrow corridor which runs along its outside. At our feet, we see blocks of light, promises of yet more illumination to come. Then, all of a sudden, we make a sudden turn into the space proper. It’s an entire long room — walls, ceiling, floor, all of walnut veneer. The paintings glow and wink at us in the semi-darkness — the bodies of the monkeys are stuck full with glitter pins, which might, we fancifully wonder, be some oblique reference to Saint Sebastian. But these are monkeys after all, and so the religious references dissolve in fairly vague feelings of awe and wonder because the meaning of this iconography is so uncertain.
Ofili has not tried to mine the hidden riches of Christian iconography in pursuit of some profound response. In fact, the more we look at these monkeys holding up their goblets, and the more we admire the swirl of carnival-like colours — pink, green, orange, etc — and the sheer decorative delightfulness of the surfaces of these paintings, the more we begin to feel that Ofili only managed to engage with religion glancingly here.
The whole room is a kind of manifestation of spirituality-lite, something towards which we can feel vaguely warm. It’s all so pleasurable, but you couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination describe it as profound, nor even as wonderful painting — despite the awe-inspiring trappings of its built environment.
Article: Times | Entertainment Section
Written by Michael Glover of Tate Britain
Date: September 15, 2005
Here we see how Chris Ofili, an obvious atheist, using the skills of the architect to create warmth and comfort through a controlled lighting environment. All these sensual elements were constructed by the genius of David Adjaye. Cleverly Chris has enhanced his work by introducing a new element into art, that of architecture. Like the framer the architect can make an inferior work look excellent. David Adjaye and his amazing work has introduced audiences to the forth dimension, that of the senses.
If there should be credit at all it should go to the dynamic environment created by David Adjaye.