I've written here before about the way Modernism distanced itself from landscape painting and how Oscar Wilde could only look upon a sunset as a 'second-rate Turner'. Over a hundred years later it is interesting to see the lengths Marc Quinn has gone to in his new exhibition The Toxic Sublime to turn a Caribbean sunrise into art now that, as he says, “you can’t do sublime any more. You can’t make a painting of nature.” Having transferred the original photograph to a set of canvases he sanded them down and stuck on strips of 'aeronautical grade aluminium tape'. Then he spray-painted them in the lurid colours of urban graffiti through templates of plastic chord and other rubbish collected from a beach. Next he took them into the street and rubbed into them impressions of drain covers (the familiar words 'Thames Water'). I thought for a moment of the Situationists' 'beach beneath the street' but Quinn is referencing the way water is taken and controlled in the city. Finally they were bonded to aluminium sheets and subjected to creasing and denting so that they look like they have been retrieved from some kind of wreckage. In the photograph accompanying the Telegraph review they actually look rather beautiful and, although I have some sympathy for the Alastair Smart's view that they 'represent an awful lot of work for awfully little reward', I think he goes too far in likening them to crumpled crisp packets.
This White Cube exhibition also includes four Frozen Wave sculptures which are much easier to like (even though their shiny stainless steel surfaces reminded me uncomfortably of Jeff Koons' Rabbit.) These are based on eroded shells, copied and cast at different scales, including one that has a whole room to itself and looks from the side like a small sperm whale. As the curators explain, 'in the moment before they disappear and become sand, all conch shells end up in a similar form – an arch that looks like a wave, as though an unwitting self-portrait by nature.' And it is remarkable how wave-like they look, with their rough surfaces and glassy-smooth undersides. At the same time, the largest (23 feet long) might be a fragment of landscape, a silver sea cave, with the shells' exposed layers blown up to resemble surf-polished rock strata. There are also two sculptures made from 3D-printed conch shells that seemed less interesting and more obvious. There was no way of putting one of these to the ear, but look inside and their mirrored surfaces are like jets of water, recalling the surging currents and breaking waves that pick them up and sculpt them.