Summer is here and its time to be out in the park soaking up as much sunshine as possible on our British, milky bodies. This is also the time of year the Serpentine Gallery, based in the middle of one of London’s biggest parks, shows off with their annual summer pavilion and push the public into their permanent space to see contemporary art outside of the larger, viewer friendly galleries in London (i.e. Tate, National Gallery). This year architect Sou Fujimoto has designed the Summer Pavilion and here to push the public inside the Serpentine Gallery is American artist Elaine Sturtevant.
This is the 13th Serpentine Pavilion and has been designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, the youngest designer at 41 to carry the baton. The ghost like structure covers 350 meters of lawn and is built out of perfect 20mm white steel tubing to create a transparency which then uses the lush colours of nature to complete the rest. The building is pure and visually delicate as Sou Fujimoto wanted to create a “cloud-like form, as if it were mist rising from the undulations of the park”. Once in the structure the public can climb and sit on certain areas where glass is used to make platforms, pulling you straight back to childhood, climbing a jungle gym. The Pavilion every year is so pleasant for creating a special environment where people can meet, however this year a rather sordidly placed Fortnum & Mason’s coffee/ sandwich station stands slap bang in the middle giving a vibe that the building has been raised with a financial gain rather than just on its artist’s merits. Its not that coffee should not be available, as I like a convenient coffee as much as the next man, but it seems questionable as to whether it has to be placed where you cant help but see the over pricing of a filter coffee and a ham sandwich and the ridiculous tuxedo printed t-shirt uniforms wherever you sit. This does leave a slightly sour taste to what is a sublime structure and I am a huge lover of this annual event and have adored past builds, however I just feel more integrity and respect should have been paid to the artist, design and project.
Inside the permanent gallery is Sturtevant with her first UK solo show in a public institution titled ‘LEAPS JUMPS AND BUMPS’. Best known for her repetition of works by other artist including Beuys, Duchamp and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Sturtevant is showing at this space during the galleries busiest time for people maybe not so into art but venturing out in the weather. The show is an interesting choice because without knowing the works on display you would presume Sturtevant was the original curator of this work, raising the question of what knowledge of understanding is needed to give the viewer or whether ignorance is your own issue? With this in mind I look to see what the gallery is offering in the way of basic background text for the spectators, I see none so ask the gallery assistant on the way out for some further information on the exhibition to which she replies that the gallery had decided along with the artist; ‘not to influence the viewer’. This makes the show feel like one big pat on the back for knowing your art history and a slap in the face of those that don’t. All I feel is that the Serpentine should understand their clientele and be willing to let everyone in rather than leaving people in the dark. I must clarify here that I do not question Elaine Sturtevant as one of the great artist of the 21st century but just question the way the display of her work treats the general public.
So all in all the Serpentine is offering a pavilion that’s dirtying great art to make a cheap buck and a show displaying phenomenal art that should be understood by all but is simply saying ‘If you got it Well Done – Oh and fuck the rest of you’.
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-Contributed by Robert Strang