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From Brian Griffiths’ BILL MURRAY: a story of distance, size and sincerity (2015) (all images courtesy Baltic Center for Contemporary Art)

Actor Bill Murray’s various roles in life and work have included ghostbuster, alleged drunk golf cart driver, Polonius, FDR, badger, Hunter S. Thompson, Eric Clapton impersonator, and man who shows up randomly to small town sporting events. Now, the famously anti-fame cult star can add “muse for major art exhibit” to that list.

On view at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, UK, BILL MURRAY: a story of distance, size and sincerity explores what British artist Brian Griffiths calls the actor’s “Murray-ness.”

“So,” Griffiths tells Hyperallergic, “Bill Murray the artist, Bill Murray the man, Bill Murray the fiction, Bill Murray the object, Bill Murray the image, Bill Murray the hipster, Bill Murray the global superstar, Bill Murray the unique, Bill Murray the everyman, and Bill Murray the anti-brand brand.”

How to pack all this “Murray-ness” into one gallery? Griffiths created a Murray-themed fantasy landscape consisting of nine small buildings, architectural sculptures meant as imaginary settings for Murray’s activities and pastimes. They’re filled with assemblages of objects and whimsically lit. “The installation is a metaphysical adventure story and a poetic tableau,” Griffiths says. As a whole, it’s as inscrutable and wry and odd as the actor himself.

A droll portrait of Murray covers the side of a domed ocean hovel with a helicopter pad on its roof, referencing the actor’s role in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. There’s an LA beach house, a Scottish mansion, an art deco home painted with a rainbow. Classical music plays softly from a clock radio inside one small house’s window; another houses a miniature whiskey bar. By exploring themes of size and scale, both literal and metaphorical, these sculptures explore how an individual’s fame, power, and reputation warps the physical and social spaces he or she inhabits. “The show enjoys and considers the effects of small, miniature, big, gigantic, the scaled up and scaled down, detail and overview,” Griffiths says.

The image that inspired the exhibit — of Bill Murray clad head-to-toe in checked clothes, holding a tiny camera, flanked by paparazzi at Cannes Film Festival — is blown up and plastered on the facade of the Baltic, looking out over the River Tyne. “There is something total, complex and possibly poetic, and definitely funny about this image,” Griffiths says. “Somehow Bill manages to be both over- and underdressed, boyishly innocent and uber aware. Like a contemporary mad hatter, seen through the digital looking glass, he becomes a warped and absurd reflection of the paparazzi audience. This image was a start to considering Mr. Murray as an approach to the show, to making and looking at art.”

Griffiths tried and failed to inform the notoriously difficult to contact Murray about the show. (Murray reportedly has no agent or manager.) Maybe he would have better luck looking for the actor at a South Carolina RiverDogs game.

BILL MURRAY: A Story of Distance, Size, and Sincerity is on view at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road, Gateshead NE8 3BA UK) until February 28, 2016.

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

5 replies on “A Bill Murray Art Exhibit as Odd and Inscrutable as the Actor Himself”

  1. One doll house with Bill Murray’s photo attached says pretty much all that could possibly said using doll houses with Bill Murray’s photo attached. Griffiths has done some great work but this is weak.

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