Thomas Houseago: LOVERS


Thomas Houseago


16 September 2023 – 28 January 2024

TANK Shanghai, Shanghai, China


TANK Shanghai is pleased to present “LOVERS”, Thomas Houseago’s first  institutional solo exhibition in Asia. Following the artist’s longstanding relationship with the museum since 2012, the inspiration for the exhibition began with the idea of recreating the energy of the artist’s studio in the museum space in China. Titled after the major sculptural work, Lovers (Round Room) (2016), the exhibition features a representative ensemble of abstract and figurative sculptures and paintings which embody the principal motifs that define the artist’s oeuvre from the last decade. This carefully curated selection displayed in the unique architectural setting of TANK invites visitors to become active participants by moving through the space among the artist’s rich body of work.


Central in the exhibition is the sculpture, Lovers (Round Room) (2016), which is a form within a form: a rigid cylinder sits within a slightly swollen, organic sphere. Echoing the temple-like architecture of the gallery, the work consists of two apertures — one vertical and the other pear-shaped, like a womb — which create an interplay of interior and exterior surfaces, light and shadows. The artist encourages visitors to freely step inside and inhabit the space within and surrounding the work. The egg-shaped Sculpture for Kids and Lovers (2022) embodies the same ideas. Reminiscent of Brancusi’s The Origin of the World (1924), Houseago’s sculpture has an ovoid form, yet unlike Brancusi’s solid marble carving, Houseago’s work is accessible but also protective, like a sanctuary. The two architectural Lovers sculptures attest to the artist’s interest in spaces for human interaction, intimacy, and vulnerability — all of which are central themes in his practice — while alluding to the ideas of a new dawn, hope, and the cycle of nature simultaneously.


Still Life (2023) is a new painting featuring an open book that carries an inscription from the 2,500-year-old Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu: ‘The Source. The Spirit of the perennial spring is said to be immortal. She is called the mysterious one. The mysterious one is the source of the universe. She is continually, endlessly giving forth, life without effort’. The chapter has various interpretations but is often thought to describe the origins of the world, which springs forth from the depths of darkness, like a child from the womb. By analogy, it also alludes to the infinitude of creative effort. In this context, the skull does not mean death but its opposite, immortality. Houseago says: “Chinese traditions have influenced me in many ways. The quote by Lao Tzu points to my profound appreciation for its culture and thought. The skull represents the spirit of the perennial spring.”


Standing Redwood Man (2023), on the other hand, exemplifies Houseago’s enduring fascination with the human body. Houseago has employed the classical contrapposto pose, with the weight largely borne on one leg, to create a sense of dynamism. First appearing in Ancient Greece in the early 5th century BCE, contrapposto is regarded as a crucial development in the history of Western art as it marks the first use of the human body to express a psychological disposition. Ghost of a Flea I (2011) — titled after the visionary miniature painting by British artist, poet, and writer, William Blake — also references classical principals but in motion. The work alludes to both Rodin’s seminal Homme qui marche (1899–1900) and Giacometti’s identically titled work of 1960. Both works faithfully represent Houseago’s profound analysis of the figurative sculpture as a universal art form as well as the dynamic complexities of the human figure.


From Houseago’s figurative works to his abstract sculptures, and from his new paintings to the most recent carving, “LOVERS” reflects the artist’s journey through the different creative phases of his life in the unique context of TANK Shanghai. It encapsulates the driving forces of his art, such as the history of sculpture, the human figure and psyche, and philosophy, which visitors are invited to intimately explore in the space. Houseago says: “I want the show to tell that story. Some of the works are raw and intense, and as much about the action of painting or carving as about the images. I hope people will be able to move freely between these ideas and experiences, and through my artistic journey.”