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Not Vital

Underground Gallery, Garden Gallery and Open Air
Past
21 May 2016–2 Jan 2017

‘Not Vital is perhaps YSP’s perfect match: an artist who really gets YSP’s merging of inside and outside space, of the man-made and natural.’

The Double Negative

Internationally renowned as a leading sculptor, this was Not Vital’s first major exhibition in the UK. With studios in the tiny Swiss village of Sent and Beijing, China, as well as homes in Rio de Janeiro and Niger, the exhibition reflected Vital's nomadic and diverse practice, including paintings and works on paper, indoor pieces made from plaster, silver, gold, marble, glass and coal, and outdoor sculptures in stainless steel and bronze.

For the first time in Europe, Vital showed an extraordinary group of monochrome portraits, one of them made especially for the gallery and measuring 12 metres long and four metres high. These were accompanied by large chased-steel heads that mesmerically absorb and reflect light, as well as large heads in ceramic, shown outdoors, made in the southern China town of Jingdezhen, for centuries central to the production of imperial porcelain.

Working with craftsmen around the world, from steel-chasers in Beijing and glass blowers in Murano, to Tuareg silversmiths in Agadez and papermakers in Bhutan, Vital does not have a recognisable ‘style’, although his works often reference nature and anthropomorphism, a relationship to home and to travel, and the surreal.

Vital captures and materialises his ideas spontaneously, and to the highest quality, resulting in imaginative spaces, which might be an enlarged camel pelvis in stainless steel, or a house which disappears underground at the touch of a button.
 
Central to his work is an exploration of the spatial, economic and cultural contexts of his homes and workplaces. One adobe pyramid in Aladab, Niger is a ‘human sculpture’ – a structure in which students shelter and learn, and on which they can sit, sing and pray, transforming the artwork into an open-air schoolhouse (or vice-versa). Vital's multiple Houses to Watch the Sunset are precisely that, drawing out the extraordinary qualities of the places in which they are situated, while simultaneously giving work to local people.

‘Extraordinary and extravagant, the works of the Swiss-American artist Not Vital blur the boundaries between reality and the surreal.’

Le Paradox

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