Keith Tyson

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Keith Tyson : biography

23 August 1969 –

Representing Galleries

  • The Pace Gallery, New York
  • Galerie Vallois, Paris

Critical Response: For and Against

For

The judging panel of the 2002 Turner Prize, which awarded the £20,000 prize to Tyson, consisted of the critic Michael Archer, then Director of the Hayward Gallery, Susan Ferleger Brades, director of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, at the Centre Georges Pompidou Alfred Pacquement, and collector Greville Worthington. They awarded the prize to Tyson, as they “admired the way in which his work embraces the poetic, the logical, the humorous and the fantastical and draws connections between them,” and praised “the strong visual energy of his work across a wide range of media.”

In the press, The Times art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston agreed that “In a series of one-man and group exhibitions, his paintings and puzzles, sculptures and contraptions – contemporary successors to Duchamp’s chance-based works – have delighted and tantalised an tangled into knots the minds of viewers…Tyson’s works are like experiments, made not to prove facts but to promote creativity. This is why he was the right winner this year.”Rachel Campbell-Johnston, ‘The shock of the now’, The Times, 10 December 2002

Similarly, the critic Alex Farquharson commended the conceptual reach of Tyson’s Supercollider exhibition at the South London Gallery in 2002 claiming of the works assembled, ‘Together they present the tragi-comedy of trying to make sense of life, whatever interpretative system is used, including the fluid and pluralistic medium of contemporary art.’

Against

Some art critics have been sceptical of the claim that Tyson’s work derives from and appeals to big and difficult ideas, and have seen his work as more kitsch than complex. Writing about Large Field Array in Art in America, Matthew Guy Nichols wrote: “These associations proliferate in many directions at once, creating an endless chain of signification that theoretically links all the units in the grid and ultimately asserts that everything in the universe in somehow connected. While this possibility is interesting to ponder…Large Field Array can also seem more trite than profound. This may be due to the extremely high production values and hyper-realism of the sculptures, which would make more visual sense in the context of certain theme parks. Indeed, I found myself thinking that Walt Disney had already addressed these issues in his Magic Kingdom, to the tune of ‘It’s a small world after all.’”Matthew Guy Nichols, ‘Keith Tyson at PaceWildenstein’, Art in America, February 2008

Some of Tyson’s more hostile critics, by contrast, have acknowledged and respected the intellectual rigour of Tyson’s work, but have felt that he is too dispassionate and clinical an artist. Adrian Searle has written that, “Tyson’s conceptually inventive and quirky games – like watching Douglas Adams meet Marcel Duchamp over chess – leave me a bit cold. I find the profligacy of his art wearying.”Adrian Searle, ‘Accessible yet incomprehensible’, The Guardian, 10 December 2002 Michael Glover, also writing about Tyson’s Turner Prize victory, agreed that, “Tyson has a big brain and lots of loudly voiced ideas about the ‘global totality of knowledge and language’ but, taken together, the work seems emotionally thin, more the tricksy, adroit antics of some brainbox than art of any memorable substance.”Michael Glover, , The Independent, 9 December 2002

Career

The Artmachine Years: 1991 – 1999

During the 1990s, Tyson’s practice was dominated by the Artmachine, which was the first means through which Tyson explored his ongoing interest in randomness, causality, and the question of how things come into being. The Artmachine was a method Tyson developed which used a combination of computer programmes, flow charts and books in order to generate chance combinations of words and ideas, which were then realised in practice as artworks in a wide range of media.