Nick Hackworth

Michael Landy: Semi-Detached, Tate Britain

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

A two-storey, pebble-dashed house now stands in the middle of Tate Britain’s long, neoclassical Duveen galleries. Its black-plastic guttering, net curtains and rough brickwork contrast nicely with the gallery’s surrounding Corinthian columns and dressed stone; it is an alien incursion into this bastion of patrician culture.

But as spectacular a gimmick as this is, the real art lies in the middle of the house, where two giant screens show videos relating to Michael Landy’s father, who has been unable to work since an industrial accident in 1977.

Though a member of the Young British Artist generation, Landy was always different. While the typical YBA response to the idea of commercialism was “Yes, please!”, Landy questioned it in straightforward, non ironic manner.

His Scrapheap Services, in 1995, highlighted the abject status of the long-term unemployed, and in his most famous work, Breakdown, executed in the old C&A store on Oxford Street in 2001, he destroyed all his
meticulously catalogued possessions.

Semi-Detached treads similar territory, though the method is more oblique and personal than before. One video is a collage of still images taken from Landy Snr’s collection of DIY manuals. Another is an extremely slow, close-up trawl across a shelf full of his personal belongings, from family photographs to DIY tools.

A soundtrack of him whistling Danny Boy adds to the wistful melancholy that envelopes the house, which becomes a poignant study of the way in which status is defined by work, and how the unemployed, like Landy’s father, are marginalised.

It is this well-judged emotional tone, economical and understated, that exposes the viewer to the full force of a gentle, ordinary and common tragedy.

Until 12 December. Information: 020 7887 8008.