Baltic Bill


When you think of heartthrobs from the acting world your mind probably jumps to Ryan Gosling, Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney or Brad Pitt. (Well, mine does at least…) Ranking somewhat lower on that list comes cinema stalwart, Bill Murray. Obviously, he is a little older now, but the Ghostbuster and Groundhog man was hardly ‘It’ even back in his Day. A household name, yes, but not a man to fan the flame of heartstring. Winding back to the early nineties, the tabloid barely swooned over his bare abs or your mother hit Hello for the latest goss.

But heartthrobs come in all shapes and sizes. We are not an ageist, racist, prejudiced world when it comes to love. At least the art world leads where the Academy should follow. And so, in Gateshead’s Baltic this winter we find a bizarre fetish of fantasy that could only belong to an artistic mind. Who would have thought renowned sculptor, Brian Griffiths hid a Bill Murray shaped passion in his closet?


Well, the truth is it is no concealed urge. The artist has transformed the fourth floor hangar of an exhibition space into his vision of all things Bill in Bill Murray: A Story of Distance, Size and Sincerity. The room is a vast cavern to fill. Big Bill, perhaps. The photos, like the 20m poster for the exhibition, suggest a grand scale to the exhibition that is wholly misrepresentative. By contrast, what we parade around is a collection of nine miniature houses that are inadequate to fill an attic, let alone the gallery.

It is an imagined landscape full of pleasure palaces, miniature whiskey cabinets and microscopic helipads. How exactly this relates to our protagonist is not immediately fathomable. Other than the face that plasters the sides of the buildings as an eerily oversized phantom. The only link between artworks is the tininess of the models within this most industrial, grey and barren of backdrops. It is unconventional. That is the point.


Griffiths has often explored the relationship of size to space, rendering the familiar, surreal. Like a caravan and a giant inflatable Panda’s head on Gloucester Road’s disused underground station in his 2007 installation, Life is a Laugh. Many a face of bemusement would have met this unlikely addition on the 7:18 commuter trains into the city. Likewise, Hollywood is nothing new. He used Casablanca actor Peter Lorre for a selection of macabre death masks. Despite this, his sculptures are normally super-sized, bursting out of the confines of their environment.

On this evidence, Griffiths, or at least his work, has gone on a crash diet. The interaction of size and space has been inverted. The void embraced. The collection of oddly sized, inadequate objects suddenly makes some sense, but only in their collective confusion. Spend a little too long within the exhibit and it wreaks havoc with the senses. It is a predominantly visual assault that finds support in sound.

A highlight is the simple sonic addition of an alarm clock spewing Classic FM. Elgar splashes into the surroundings. You have to bend close, but the audio reaches the attentive adding another level of disruption in this dainty detail. Even on escaping the exhibition, the floor above provides the opportunity to look down below. Suddenly, the weirdness strikes. A miniature whiskey viewed through the telescope on the viewing platform magnifies the eccentricity of this strangest idea.


So why? That has to be the burning question for anyone who has read this far. Well, Bill represents a rebellion against the norm. A self-styled man within the homogeneity of Hollywood, he has never been afraid to strike out on his own. Perhaps his recent work with similarly outré director, Wes Anderson, demonstrates this ‘indie’ streak within our main man. No, it comes down to the fact that Bill doesn’t check his emails. (A warning for any budding editor.) Even the ones from Target Jobs…

Murray waits for no man. He has no agent. He is famously hard to contact and directors regularly struggle to get scripts to the sought after actor. Whisper it quietly, but he probably doesn’t even have an iPhone or a penthouse. Apparently, this marks a man different within the narrow confines of Hollywood type casting. Whatever the case, Griffiths’ exhibition is true to an enigma. Murray may not even find out about his latest stardom. Whatever the case, this is Bill’s Baltic.

Photos are courtesy of me.

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