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Art Basel 2017

The Peninsula Hong Kong’s light bulb moment, and the clever illusion of a sculpture in steel that’s barely there

‘A sculpture of a drawing of a light bulb’ is how artist Michael Craig-Martin describes his Bright Idea 2016, a work that intentionally misleads but has, he hopes, a clear message

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 11:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 11:48am

A giant light bulb has emerged out of The Peninsula hotel’s fountain – except it isn’t really a light bulb, but a yellow, four-metre high steel sculpture, if something as thin as a line counts as sculpture.

Bright Idea 2016 is British artist Michael Craig-Martin’s playful intervention in the hotel courtyard, set up to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong. The hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui commissioned the steel outline of a light bulb for the fourth edition of its “Love Art at The Peninsula” project in collaboration with Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts.

Craig-Martin, creator of The Oak Treea glass of water on a shelf that is one of the most inviting and profound pieces of conceptual art ever made – says his light bulb is full of ironies.

“Even though it is made of steel and is heavy, there is no mass to it. It is simply a line. Sculptures that are representational usually mimic the three-dimensional form of the object or person. Mine is a sculpture of a drawing of a light bulb. It is an illusionism of two dimensions, and not three,” the artist says. “Also, it looks as if it lights up at night because of the surrounding lights but it isn’t really.”

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Even the way it is installed is meant to mislead. “The base of this heavy structure is hidden in the planter behind the fountain. It looks weightless. It takes away the pressure of gravity and since it’s a light bulb, it has to do with ideas floating without being restrained,” he explains.

“A lot of what I do is like being a magician who tells people how the trick is done, but still manages to surprise people.”

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The simple, universal shape of the light bulb makes it particularly accessible public art, Craig-Martin says.

“What interests me is how we all read images and understand them,” he says. “I am also showing pictures inside the hotel that are very precise images of ordinary, instantly recognisable objects. Nobody has to speculate what they are. It is about the universality of common objects that overrides any language barrier.”

What interests me is how we all read images and understand them
Michael Craig-Martin

The increasing call for barriers in the world worries him. “The whole basis of our understanding of our world since the end of the second world war is coming apart at the seams. In my whole lifetime, and I am 75 years old, there have been certain assumptions about the world and this foundation that is under attack,” Craig-Martin says.

He says the art world can serve as a model for world order.

“One of the nice things about the art world is that nobody is in control. It is very pluralistic. As an artist you just do what is right for you, not the right thing for market, museum or your friends. And you allow others to do what is right for them,” he says.

Bright Idea 2016 is on display in The Peninsula’s courtyard and a series of Michael Craig-Martin’s new paintings are exhibited on the first floor of the hotel. Until May 31.