Michael Landy was born in London in 1963; he lives and works in London. Having studied at Goldsmiths in the late 1980’s, Landy’s work was shown at the now historic Freeze exhibition at London’s docklands in 1988. In many of his earliest works, such as Market (1990), Closing Down Sale (1992) and Scrapheap Services (1995), Landy presented a satirical view on the political and social climate of neoliberal Britain, constructing installations that interrogated issues of consumerism and the commodification of art. Landy’s concern with the attribution of value and ownership have remained central to his practice, notably in Break Down (2001), in which each and every one of the artist’s 7,227 possessions were systematically destroyed by Landy and his assistants over the course of two weeks in a former C&A department store building in Oxford Street, London. In a similar fashion, for Art Bin (South London Gallery, 2010, subsequently presented at the 2014 Yokohama Triennale), Landy constructed an enormous perspex cube into which artists were invited to dispose of works they felt to be creative failures.
In a continuation from his interrogation of value, the expendability of labour, possession and ownership, for Scaled-Down (2018) at Thomas Dane Gallery, Landy subjected many of his recent artworks to an industrial waste compaction process that transformed them into densely packed cubes, a direct critique of art’s entanglement with the commodity in commercial capitalism. Among these ‘scaled-down’ projects were Landy’s Breaking News (2015-2017), a series of five immersive installations of fragmentary oil-stick paintings, encompassing a kaleidoscopic array of imagery from political slogans to generic signage, branding imagery to art historical pastiches.
A more recent feature of Landy’s practice involves temporal public commissions and archival projects. In 2004, Landy exhibited Semi-detached at the Tate Britain Duveen Galleries. Focusing on the life of his father John Landy, a tunnel miner who became incapacitated by an industrial accident, Landy installed a full-scale model of his father’s home incorporating video and sound. As in much of his site-specific work, Landy’s authorship and intervention is deliberately limited in Semi-detached. The videos document his father’s life in a way both forensic and poetic: attention is paid to minor elements and mundane objects that give substance to a life lived in contained space while also touching on characteristic, intimate details of his father.
For Making Art Public: 50 Years of Kaldor Public Art Projects (2019) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Landy collaborated with the institution to radically reimagine the historic commissions by Kaldor Public Art Projects, installing bespoke ‘archival boxes’ for 34 ephemeral projects. Here, as in much of his work, supplemental material and archival remnants supersede the absent centre of the original work or influence. In a continued documentation of passing intimacies, for London TFL’s Art on the Underground, Landy created Acts of Kindness (2011-2012) where he invited members of the public to submit stories of kindness later featured on London Underground stations.
While unexploited in much of his earlier work, Landy’s skill as a draughtsman has been expressed in series such as Nourishment (2002), a collection of meticulously crafted botanical drawings of weeds, icons of survival and endurance found growing between paving slabs in London. Rendered in exceptional detail, Landy’s drawings frequently shift in scale. From the torn symbols of Breaking News, to his tribute for Jean Tinguely’s failed self-destructing sculpture-performance Homage to New York (1960) in H.2.N.Y. (2005-2016), or his portraits of 80 friends and family, drawing becomes a means to consider intimacy and fascination on one hand, and the politics of language and communication on the other.
Landy’s work was the subject of the major survey exhibition Out of Order at Museum Tinguely, Basel in 2016 and his work has been exhibited internationally in venues including Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2015), Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, Mexico City (2014); National Gallery, London (2013); Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (2013), National Portrait Gallery, London (2011), Tate Liverpool (2009); Tate Britain, London (2004) and has made major public projects with Artangel, London (2001) and Kaldor Public Art Projects, Sydney (2011). In 2017, in collaboration with NEON, Greece and the public of Athens, Landy staged the large-scale exhibition Breaking News- Athens at the disused Diplarios School and building over a four-month period. It was followed later that year by DEMONSTRATION, the Fleck Celestory commission at Powerplant, Toronto, with an installation of drawings built with content submitted by the Canadian public. The interactive installation Open for Business, Landy’s ‘Brexit kiosk’, was commissioned for the first Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art in 2018.
Landy’s works are held in public institutions internationally, including the Tate Collection, London; the Arts Council, England; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Landy received a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2021.