b. 1985, United Kingdom

Helen Marten Biography

Turner Prize winner Helen Marten is a conceptually aligned artist based in London. Fond of drawing organising diagrams that embrace visual riddles, her rebus-like installations start their production with these and favourite sentences selected from inspiring literature.

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Complex with many interconnected components, the work presents an exuberant love of logjammed language, layered allusion, and intricate materiality.

Early Life

Raised in Macclesfield, a working class post-industrial town just south of Manchester, Marten's father was a travelling pharmaceutical developer who encouraged collecting in his children, and her mother a scientist. Marten went to Central St. Martins, London in 2004 and then to the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford between 2005 and 2008.

Helen Marten Artworks

Marten's sprawling but compelling projects delight in evading tidy meaning, being meticulously structured like the syntactical components of a sentence with an apparent logic that then furtively slips away.

With fragments that jump from medium to medium, they are poetic, theatrical, visually rich, self-reflexive, convoluted, and maddeningly layered. Seductive but also exasperating is the realisation that you can only scratch the densely overloaded surface. See for instance, Census (2018), The Lemon (2016), and Fixed Sky Situation (2019).

Marten's clusters of beguiling, finely crafted, and carefully juxtaposed obliquely suggestive items—on walls, the floor, or suspended high—are interspersed with tiny texts or quotes rendered in sculpted cursive script that bombard the visitor with potential entries to meaning—conceptual pathways that invariably dissolve. Although digital methods of production, such as three-dimensional printing or 'collage' image collating, are used, they are not the point. She thinks her thinking shows more of an analogue sensibility.

Although the presentation has a lot of the anarchic unpredictability of innovative sculptors like Jessica Stockholder, Isa Genzken, or Rachel Harrison, Marten clearly also loves large paintings, conventional illustration, kids' books, toys, and recontextualised or reassembled language. Though highly eclectic, she seems to fit into an English tradition that includes Lewis Carroll, Laurence Sterne, and R.B. Kitaj—with a keen leaning towards generative text.

Marten's installations may be baffling but they are not confrontational. They have a sweetness that invites the viewer to attempt to decipher, to investigate the different scales, codes, games, and verbal layerings. They are not antagonistic or patrician, but engaging through their open playfulness, seeking to create pleasure by the encouraging the investigation of elements section by section, but avoiding any simple cohesive overview. Examples include 1094 bones (2018), Exfoliating curve lines (total cushioning) (2014), Part offering (hit the mahogany) (2014), and Alive at five (2012).

Awards and Accolades

Helen Marten has been the recipient of multiple awards and scholarships, including the Turner Prize (2016), the Hepworth Prize for Sculpture (2016), the LUMA Prize (2012), the Prix Lafayette (2011), and the Boise Travel Scholarship (2009).

In 2020, Marten published her debut novel, The Boiled In Between.


Helen Marten has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions in leading commercial galleries and also institutions.

Recent solo exhibitions include Sparrows on the Stone, Sadie Coles HQ, London (2021); 18 Works on Paper, Sadie Coles HQ, London (2020); Fixed Sky Situation, König Galerie, Berlin (2019); Drunk Brown House, Serpentine North Gallery, London (2016); Eucalyptus, Let Us In, Greene Naftali, New York (2016); Parrot Problems, Fridericianum, Kassel (2014); Plank Salad, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2012); and ALMOST THE EXACT SHAPE OF FLORIDA, Kunsthalle Zürich (2012).

Recent group exhibitions include 100 Drawings from Now, The Drawing Center, New York (2020); The Body Electric, YBCA Galleries Yerba Buena Center for The Arts, San Francisco (2019); The Trick Brain, Aïshti Foundation, Beirut (2018); 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016); 56th Venice Biennale (2015); and This Sentence, China Art Objects Gallery, Los Angeles (2015).

Helen Marten's work is collected by several major institutions, including the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Torino; and Museum of Modern Art, New York.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021

Helen Marten Recent Exhibitions

Helen Marten Represented By

KÖNIG GALERIE contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany KÖNIG GALERIE Berlin, London, Seoul

Helen Marten In Ocula Magazine

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