In a world full of arbitrary choices, Martin Creed is an artist who uses systems to make decisions and create order. Unlike most of the YBAs, who are mainly traditionalists using unconventional materials, Creed is a true conceptualist, and his work embodies the 2.0 of contemporary British art. In the lineage of Sol LeWitt—but also radically departing from his precedent—Creed examines ideas and material, identifying a problem-solving strategy that then dictates the rules and the end product. Decisions and flourishes in the work are defined and justified by the limits of his methodologies, materials, or both. And in identifying these strategies, the viewer sees how absurdly ingenious Creed can be.
One framework that is readily apparent for all of Creed’s work at his major survey show at Hayward Gallery is a numbering system that he started using around 1991. Every work has a unique number assigned to it, but not every work receives a title. Whilst considering one of the large gallery walls covered with 1,000 multicolored imprints of broccoli on card, titled Work No. 1000: Broccoli Prints (2009-10), I considered the idea of frameworks and was reminded of a joke my wife’s grandmother used to tell frequently. In some ways, it works as a nice analogy for the moment one has when looking at Creed’s work. To paraphrase:
A woman walks into a grocery store and asks the clerk for some broccoli. The clerk responds that they’re fresh out of broccoli, but the woman refuses to yield on her request. After a bit of back-and-forth, the exasperated clerk offers: