REVIEW: Martin Creed, Sketch Nightclub, London

I rather love the work of Martin Creed. There’s a manly sort of whimsy to much of it, leaving aside his more-realist-than-needs-be Sick and Sex films, which I encountered for the first time at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in 2008 while studying for my MA. There are times when an image really shouldn’t get stuck in your head…

Martin Creed, Work No. 227, 2001.

But there’s a deftness too in the way he ascribes art amongst the ordinary and everyday and a sense of amusement too, more than perhaps humour. I’m not sure if you would call it conceptual art punctured by an unpretentious realism or realist art with a witty and knowing surrealist bent.

Martin Creed,  Work No. 850 , 2008. Photo: David Ing

Martin Creed, Work No. 850, 2008. Photo: David Ing

Creed is perhaps most famous for winning the Turner Prize in 2001 for his Work No.227 – the infamous room with the lights that turned themselves on and off. But I’m thinking of his 2008 Duveen Commission for Tate Britain, Work no. 850, where an athlete ran the length of the Duveen Galleries, full pelt, every 30 seconds, every day from July to November and Work No. 409 (2005), that’s now installed in the JCB lift at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. Here, a recording plays every time the lift is used: a group of singers’ voices rise and fall as the lift ascends and descends. It’s both theatrically daggy and unapologetically it is what it is that you can’t help but like it.

Creed’s latest work can be found at Sketch on Conduit St. Sketch is many things – all of them achingly cool – but in amongst the kinetic sculptures, past the members bars with its impressive cocktail list - there’s also a restaurant. I’d been to Sketch once before, to the bar with someone who knew someone who worked on the door, and I glimpsed the restaurant then on my way to their infamous bathrooms (google them.) At the time, the restaurant had video art wallpaper, with deer ambling their way across the walls. Now, the restaurant has Martin Creed.

Specifically, it has Work No. 1343 and Work No. 1347, two works specially commissioned in the first of a programme of artist-conceived restaurants at Sketch. The commission is to create an environment that is “at once an exhibition, an artwork and a restaurant” and that was all I needed to know to make a booking (the things we do in the name of art...)

Martin Creed Work No. 1347 & Work No. 1343, 2012. (With the lights on....)

Creed’s two works take in the floor, Work No. 1347; 96 different types of earthy coloured marble from around the world, arranged in zigzag formation across the room and; Work No. 1343 – basically everything else.

Creed has taken out the tables, chairs, cutlery, glassware, crockery, light fittings, lamps, bar stools and video art and replaced everything with something unique. It’s a dazzling partnership of art and function as handmade meets mass-produced with antiques, contemporary design and junk store chic coming together across decades and continents to create a dynamic, colourful, clever but resolutely unpretentious space where no two objects are the same.

We were sat at a yellow Formica table, my seat an old wooden swivel chair with inlaid designs and a horse embroidered cushion, my wine glass a memento from the Willesden West Rotary Club. The gentleman at the table next to us was sitting in one of those lecture hall seats with the attached desk while across the room another chair was covered entirely in what looked like leather post-it notes. Each wall had its own large-scale work of art and only the bar staff matched in their smart black and white striped shirts.

It was such an engaged, lively, lovely environment to be in, with the mishmash of lights overhead washing the space in a warm, intimate light, and the way in which the outdoor furniture negated the ostentatious Chanel jewellery of its sitter across the room. Our waiter told us that every evening the room is rearranged so no two experiences are the same. It’s like that childhood birthday game where you move amongst the chairs in time to the music but instead of one being removed, it’s simply replaced. And happily, no one goes without cake.  

Refreshingly, given the whole set up, the service was totally without pretension and the staff were as informed about Creed’s work as they were about the menu. Broadbean soup with goats cheese for entree, veal blanquette for main and sorbet and macaroons for dessert, the food was a perfect mix of interesting and delicious and I can still taste the bubblegum in my companion’s dessert, something called a Malabar, featuring Bourbon vanilla-infused milk, strawberry mousse, bubble gum ice cream and marshmallow. Bloody hell it was good.

As an art experience, it was joyous – humorous, democratic, memorable. As a food experience, it was sophisticated and fun. I’m not sure what else you can ask for, but my admiration for Creed continues, as does my love for non-traditional art-filled, art-fuelled environs.

It was such a special night, one of those crazy truly London-only moments, reinforced by the amble home down Regents St to Piccadilly Circus tube. I have to confess it wasn’t a cheap night but then, only Damien Hirst puts a price on art right?