The South London Gallery opens its new annexe in the former Peckham Road Fire Station with Knock Knock, an exhibition that looks at humour as a device in art. Featuring works by more than thirty artists, the show explores what makes us laugh in art and why, writes Michael Holland.

It is good that the art world doesn’t always take itself too seriously.  What’s wrong with getting an important point across with a joke?  However, much of the work in Knock Knock doesn’t have much to say of real import and a lot of the many works on show were more clever than funny.  

I was intrigued by Sarah Lucas’s Yves, but more for its grotesqueness than for any humour, and smiled at an array of baseball caps.  I did laugh at Rodney Graham surreptitiously watching the world go by through two holes cut in to a newspaper he makes out he is reading in Newspaper Man, but failed to see any reason to smile at Harold Offeh’s Smile, a video of a young man forcing a smile to Nat King Cole singing Smile.  Too many smiles do not a smile raise.

Ryan Gander’s animatronic blinking eyes were quite droll, and Ceal Floyer’s Mousehole was instantly likeable.  Martin Creed, on the other hand, usually laugh out loud funny while still making a valid point on society, doesn’t seem to be trying to make us feel any better in this exhibition and I now feel I need to ride up and down in his brilliant Singing Lift to remedy that. 

Worth a look, by all means, but you won’t be having giggling fits.  Perhaps a few wry smiles.

Knock Knock is on at South London Gallery, 65–67 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH until 18th Nov. Times: Tues – Sun 11am – 6pm. Admission: Free.

Main image: Ugo Rondinone