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November 10 - December 22, 2001 at Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills

by Diane Calder

Changing names was one of the few tactics that British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster failed to employ as they rocketed their way towards Instant Gratification. Their climb from undergraduate status at Nottingham Polytechnical in the late 1980’s to fame and fortune at the top of the international art scene was accomplished with the kind of neo-Warholian urgency common to aspiring second generation punk musicians. The pair employed tried and new revolutionary schemes to muscle their way into the spotlight. In 1993 Webster designed Big Ego, the brash, star-studded billboard that falsified Noble’s age and place of birth to suggest that he qualified for a Time Out magazine contest. By 1994 they had grabbed the art world’s attention with Hijack, asserting their claim to succession by posting their faces over images of Gilbert and George. Arcing back to Duchamp’s alter egos and loads of identity switching strategies since, these tactics were more well timed and raucously insistent than new.

In the early days of their collaboration, while in residency at Halifax, the pair’s pamphleteering, painting and sculptural work leaned towards dumbed down, romantically nihilistic imagery. Bonding with other young Brits personifying “toughs” was as quick and easy as getting marked up with felt tipped pens at their street tattoo parlor (Livestock Market, London, 1997). In an interview for Eyestorm, Noble discussed the skull rings worn by the couple and the influence of punk on their work. “I think anything that’s a bit of a rocket up the arse, anything that kicks against the routine, against the mundane things that close down your mind, is a refreshing and good thing. Punk did that very successfully . . . it offered a direct and instant means of producing products or things.”

“Instant Gratification,” U.S. $1 bills/bulldog clips/MDF/Formica/Perspex/3 electronic fans/slot machine mechanism/plastic tokens/light projector, 87 x 30 x 30”, 2001.

“$," 204 ice white turbo reflector caps, lamps, holders, daisy washers, laquered brass, electronic sequencer (3 channel shimmer effect), 72 x 48 x 10", edition of 5, 2001.

Noble and Webster’s products had attracted big time collectors (Saatchi, the New York Guggenheim) by the time their self portrait with tattoos, Don't Fuck with the Blackheads, appeared in a group show at Modern Art Gallery earlier this year. Just what is it that makes these Brits so different, so appealing? Much of the credit goes to their big, brilliant signage and the manipulative way they have with trash.

The Undesirables, a pile of garbage (literally), which, when properly lit, casts a silhouette of the couple, and The Muthafucka, an electronically sequenced construction of bulbs and colored turbo caps, were included in the Apocalypse show at the Royal Academy last year. The light piece sprang from a line of flashers that included, Toxic Schizophrenia, areyouhappynow?, Fucking Beautiful and the self contradictory Forever (1996).

The twenty-foot long revision of Forever sequencing in this show is the most ambitious in size of Noble and Webster’s light works to date. Its electrifying bravado fails to overpower the propensity towards falsification that links it to English carnival life, London’s millennium spectacle and the artists’ earlier tattoo work. At this scale, in "Flamingo Hotel” script, the work positions its authors among those who have been learning from Las Vegas. Noble and Webster’s life-sized shimmering duo, Pair of Dollars, and their money spewing machine, Instant Gratification, pay off in elite Beverly Hills, while you notice that at the same time glitzy signs in Vegas are being torn down to make room for pseudo Mediterranean palaces, fine restaurants and art museums. The gap between entertainment and culture is shrinking in a more literal way than Robert Venturi ever predicted when he began his examination of sleaze twenty-five years ago.

There’s a “take a chance” pull to Instant Gratification. Insert a token and it pays off with a flurry of dollar bills that settle down on a projected vision: the self-portrait silhouette of Noble facing Webster. It’s loaded with implications about the nature of fame and fortune, and existence so delicately balanced as to be easily threatened with imminent implosion.

Even before the 11th of September “changed things forever,” dot.coms in freefall and threats of energy blackouts made life a gamble, tarnishing belief in Forever’s promise. Now the sign’s message seems more poignant than ever, especially in view of recent proposals by groups in New York to resurrect the twin towers with gigantic phantom columns of light.