|home | exhibitions | interviews | features | profiles | webprojects | archive|
Patrick Lowry's Auction House
Simulacrum: A thing that replaces reality with a representation, substituting ‘signs of the real’ for the ‘real’
Patrick Lowry is an artist who revels in confounding our expectations. We approach his work believing it is one thing, only to find it is something else, a rendering of surfaces mimicking materials and objects. We hesitate; are we looking at a real thing or a fake? And if it is a fake, how can it be an original work of art? These questions and conundrums resurface throughout Lowry’s career. He uses the art of illusion to create exact replicas of specific objects, often chosen as symbols of political subterfuge or commercial manipulation. At their core is the message; things are not always what they seem.
Lowry is intrigued by consumer objects. He talks of seeing electric guitars in shops as a youth, attracted to their shiny surfaces and sculptural forms, drawn by their physical appearance more than any desire to play them. During his art foundation course, although initially intending to do Fine Art he became interested in design, intrigued by prototypes that looked real but did not function. Following a design degree, he joined Philips Electrical in the ‘70s, dividing his time between Croydon and Eindhoven but became disillusioned with the ethics of product design. While attending an international conference in 1973, during the oil crises examining how to make design sustainable, he concluded the biggest problem was the designers themselves, intent on only changing the outward appearance of appliances to entice consumers to buy new ones. A move to Cornwall to work at Falmouth College of Art and his subsequent role at Cornwall College leading a Fine Art degree programme, placed him in a broader, enquiry-driven context where he gravitated back towards his fine art roots.
After gaining a masters degree in Contemporary Art, he appeared to draw a line under his early foray into fashioning prototypes, yet Lowry never quite relinquished his fascination with replicating one material in another. While his motivations shifted, his approach of meticulous forgery continued. Mastering the art of rendering one material in another, he uses his extensive research and making skills to expose neoliberal currents in all aspects of life within developed economies. Presenting full-scale replicas of highly valued objects: houses, cars, military drones, selected 20th Century artworks, he asks why these things are valued in society, by whom and for what purpose. Being in the presence of his work is to be bewitched. At first glance they are compelling, truthful objects, intriguing in their setting, whether the entrance to a municipal council office or a white cube gallery, audiences are drawn to them. Yet closer examination reveals they are most decidedly not ‘the real thing’ and questions and doubts begin to form. Why is this here? Why has the artist deceived us? Is it simply a show of technical virtuosity or is something else intended? At this point, Lowry has achieved one of his aims, to raise questions in the mind of the viewer. He encourages audiences to question the underlying purposes of much that is taken for granted in developed economies – buying a house, owning a car, coveting originals, activities that ultimately generate vast profits for only a few individuals.
“The space it exists in is as much a part of the work as the piece itself.” Patrick Lowry
Where the works are presented is also critical to an understanding of their intention. The location drives Lowry’s research. Finding out what has happened, or perhaps as importantly, what might have happened at these sites, enables him to freeform associations and connections. For Auction House (2021), taking place at the appropriately named Auction House Project Space in Redruth, Cornwall, Lowry has drawn on the building’s original function as a sale room built in 1880. Through this he reflected on artworks of significance to him since his art foundation studies, selecting nine artists, a piece of whose work he would replicate to form a collection of facsimiles to be sold to the highest bidder. Each simulacrum forms part of the complete work, underpinned by the performative elements of participants in viewing, bidding, buying and owning one tenth of the art work. Lowry invites people to step inside the processes driving the international art world, where mind boggling sums of money change hands and artist’s reputations are made or broken. He asks participants to consider the purpose and value of this activity in relation to the original intentions of the artists who first made the works he has replicated.
Does owning a facsimile of a work of art, forming one tenth of a complete piece, place the buyer within the realm of the contemporary art market? Does it challenge compelling forces inherent in such markets to demonstrate wealth and taste; to launder illicit cash; or to acquire an investment of no aesthetic interest to the purchaser? Auction House will give people an opportunity to decide where they stand in this performance. They will be able to peruse the sale catalogue and make bids in advance and on the day of the auction, vying with others to own a piece of a Lowry, a collection of copies of nine 20th Century artists’ work. He hopes bidding will be fierce! He has plans for the money. Unlike much of the contemporary art market, his (ill-gotten? nobly attained?) gains will be shared between two charities, Sight Savers and Water Aid, longstanding organisations he has previously supported.
Sara Bowler is an artist living and working in Cornwall. Images are works by Patrick Lowry. From top to bottom: American Dream (2013), Escalator 2 (2008) & 24 Hour Cash (2011).
See 'exhibitions' for installation shots of 'Auction House' (2021).