Text by Stephanie Bell
Buried within the grandiose neoclassical Carlton House, Manchester, lays the latest site specific exhibition by Richard Shields. As the exhibition documents the development of Shield’s preoccupation with Renaissance art, religion and wealth, choosing this location adds a firm foundation of meaning to the already concept heavy show.
Finding himself as an art graduate deep in student debt, Shields began thinking historically of the price of an art education where banking and religion were the main founders. After researching the House of Medici, the infamous bankers responsible for creating the Italian Renaissance, Shields is compelled and creates ‘Adeptness Indebted’ (2010), successfully selling his credit card debt as an artwork in 2012. The exhibition thematically unravels from here onwards as he discovers more intrinsic links between Renaissance society and that of modern day.
Using Duchampian methods of interdisciplinary materials, Shields recreates Raphael’s, ‘The Conestabile Madonna’ and Holman Hunts’ ‘Shadow of Death’ on abandoned pool tables with chalk dust. He immortalises the face of Cosimo de’ Medici alongside the Medici and Barclays crests on paper coffee cups, giving a nod to the ‘penny universities,’ or coffee shops where Barclays was founded, playing with the idea of worth and the disposable.
This idea is mirrored in ‘Rejected Proposal’ seeing various artists show miniature creations based on an art proposal which has previously been rejected. Displaying these miniatures in a ring box, there is a homonym around the word ‘proposal’ and a sense of offering up to a higher power – be that love or The Arts Council. It is safe to say that every piece Shields creates is heavily planned ensuring each decision may be argued and reasoned. This could make for a stilted execution, however with Shields it is a matter of being consistently meticulous throughout the layers of meaning.
‘Bring Me The Head of Damien Hirst’ is a well blended combination of concept, relevance and humour. This piece still has roots in the Renaissance when artists couldn’t complete grand commissions singularly and were reliant on the aid of assistants, much like Damien Hirst who has infamously minimal input with his own work. In ‘Bring Me The Head of Damien Hirst Part One’ Shields invites his contemporaries to create artworks with miniature busts of Hirst, seeing ‘Always Digging’ and ‘iHirst’ as the most notable and comic.
Shields strengths lay not in his angst against the Royal College as in ‘The Possibility of Seeing,’ but when those hang-ups are called into question within the broader art world. There is something more universally relatable with the commemorative Cosimo de’ Medici coffee cups and ‘Bring Me The Head of Damien Hirst,’ more thought provoking and relatable than individual resentment. Shields’ work is a smirk, a subtle poke at universal truths in modern day society, his work acting as a revelation rather than a revolt.