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Everything Must Go

“Everything Must Go”, the battle cry of corporate retail stores, encouraging us, the public, to accumulate, to buy more…

This particular phrase was an impetus for the art installation known as “Breakdown”, by Michael Landy, a British Artist and member of a celebrated generation of artists known as “The Young British Artists”.

Landy systematically catalogued and destroyed each of his more than 7,000 personal possessions in 2001, a digital age, bit by bit, real word destruction, making a profound artistic statement, which would leave him without a single possession. Everything had to go, all of his art back catalogue, photo’s, electronics, clothes, passport, keys….The exhibit was held in a vacant C&A clothes store on Oxford Street in central London, with Landy standing on a platform overseeing a production line staffed by ten assistants.

“It’s about the amount of raw material that goes into making objects and about the lifespan of things… but the title also reflects an emotional breakdown” Michael Landy

“Break Down saw the destruction of everything from childhood photographs to kitchen utensils and socks, leaving the artist with no material means of self-definition. Landy’s effects were placed into gaping plastic bins and left to circulate on a conveyor belt for two weeks before meeting their final end. The show’s onlookers witnessed the reversal of production line consumerism: a microcosmic experiment in which the capitalist model of logic was inverted and subsequently destroyed. Break Down was intended as an examination of consumer culture, but it was also an act of purification, both personal and philosophical, that severed Landy’s physical connection to the past. It was a sacrifice made to the possibility of something entirely new”. Sarah Nardi, Adbusters Magazine, March/April 2010

Among the items destroyed in the name of art, his valuable art collection, which included pieces by artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.

This artistic endeavour of course left the artist with some very real challenges, he had destroyed everything, ironically, he still managed to accumulate something during the process, namely, DEBT! Landy had initially agreed to sell some of the shredded material to finance the highly unusual art installation but changed his mind during the process and picked up the tab himself. Left with debt and not a single possession, Landy  described the event as an, “examination of consumerism”. “I see this as the ultimate consumer choice. Once Break Down has finished, a more personal break down, will commence – life without my self-defining belongings.”

“Break Down”, which was a joint commission from The Times newspaper and Artangel, attracted around 45,000 visitors, during its two week exhibition. At the end of the process all that was left was bags of rubbish, none of which was sold or exhibited in any form. Landy made no money as a direct result of “Break Down”

When I finished I felt an incredible sense of freedom, the possibility that I could do anything…

Michael Landy


Everything Must Go! The First Major Monograph of Landy’s Work- Everything Must Go! Michael Landy



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