“ The Serpentine Gallery is an art gallery in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, central London, which focuses on modern and contemporary art. Established in 1970 and housed in a classical 1934 tea pavilion, it takes its name from the nearby Serpentine Lake. Notable artists who have been exhibited there include Man Ray, Henry Moore, Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley, Allan McCollum and Damien Hirst. „
'Give & Take' is an exhibition on currently (between Jan 30th + Apr 1st 2001) at the Serpentine Gallery, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, which marks the link between the two. We didn't get to the V&A, unfortunately, but it is showing work by the international contemporary artists: Ken Aptekar Xu Bing Neil Cummings & Marysia Lewandowska Wim Delvoye Jeff Koons - American artist famed for his use of tacky pop images and photos of him with his porn star wife Liza Lou Roxy Paine J. Morgan Puett & Suzanne Bocanegra Marc Quinn Andres Serrano - did 'Piss Christ' in late 80's which caused huge controversy in the US Yinka Shonibare - recently exhibited in Tate Britain's Intelligence exhibition -uses clothes with bright textile design on inappropriate garments Hiroshi Sugimoto - runner up in recent Turner Prize Philip Taaffe. I was lucky enough, however, to get to the Serpentine Gallery to see Hans Haacke's work. The Serpentine Gallery could be mistaken for a posh park ranger's hut, living cosily in the middle of Hyde Park, overlooking trees, squirrels and ducks in the Serpentine River. It's a lovely location for a great gallery. Rather like Dr Who's Tardis it is surprisingly spacious inside, with the expected white entrance and minimalist layout, leading into the gallery space. On entering you are greeted with a large gilt mirror and two huge antique vases (or are they umbrella stands? I'm not really up on vase-shaped-things) whose detailed portraits gazed at each other nonchalantly from either side of the mirror. Greeted with these antiques, that really don't fell like they belong, I thought, 'Right - here's the naff bit. Where's all the installation and art stuff?' Confused I turned round, peaked into the next room, glanced round again and realised that THIS was it!! I felt a bit foolish for a while, and then began to wond
er why on earth someone had an installation that looked like a dusty old museum. I eventually found out that Hans Haacke had spent the last year in collaboration with the V&A museum to find exhibits, which he then had transplanted into the gallery. They were placed, purposely, around the gallery so that the gallery looked like any old museum, but subtle differences soon became obvious. As you turn left from looking at yourself in the antique mirror you are faced with an enormous ugly, yet comical, marble bull. It stares you right in the eyes, its own eyeballs bulging from the sockets, horns pointing straight at you. If you don't feel intimidated yet you're obviously not looking properly. Also in this hallway is a very tall spiky plant - something I felt to be intentionally threatening. It's nice that Haacke wants you to be there so much that he feels the need to scare you off! The next room shows old photos of construction sites and builders. I was just about to walk straight past all of this when my friend started giggling. I just couldn't understand what was funny about the, in my opinion, dull photos. I turned around again and noticed that all of the exhibits and frames of the pictures were wonky or placed in a way that looked completely wrong, once you actually noticed it. It doesn't really seem all that funny now, but I think it was just because it was so cheekily done, and because nobody really noticed it and were perplexed by the pieces. The artist had been given the pleasure of setting up his very own wonky museum! Suddenly I took note of every detail of the the gallery space. Everything had a purpose and was intentionally placed. In the next room mug shots displaying different facial types of South Africans were juxtaposed with an outfit from a London Carnival which boasted 'black power'. The mug shots were apparently used in the early 20th Century by a man who aimed to prove that different he
ad and face shapes meant different levels of intelligence, in this case S. Africans were showcased as less intelligent. These different attitudes were interesting, and made racism seem all the more ridiculous. It also pointed to the viewer that that was what the exhibition was about - JUXTAPOSITION. I can't use that word enough. I love it!! (**gets out thesaurus to find alternative word** Juxtaposition - here we are - adjacency, closeness, contact, contiguity, nearness, propinquity, proximity, vicinity. Ahem. I always try to add a little teaching to my opinions.) Photos of a man's back, scarred heavily from being whipped, sat next to 17th and 18th Century illustrations depicting slaves and the slave trade. Race and dominance features heavily in this room, with pictures like those South African mugshots being hung next to a Helmut Newton fashion photo of a white woman, dressed in safari gear, running over sand dunes, followed by a traditionally dressed black woman, carrying the white woman's baby in her arms. The contrasts were striking. Two glass cabinets showed, what appeared to be, clothes of an era. On closer inspection there was more to it. One had timeworn Indian chainmail armour, supported by a pair of relatively new black leather boots 'Made in Mexico' and punks studded wrist and neck band. The other was layered with womans shawls, skirt, blouse and Vivienne Westwood huge red patent platforms, the clothes all from different eras, but blending in to look like one era. The next rooms exhibits included a slightly askew, very ancient looking, Jesus on the cross, which stared pathetically towards the center of the room at a huge marble statue which towers powerfully over gallery visitors. Very subtly, in fact hardly noticeably, the lighting pulses as if faulty, although we assumed it was purposeful. The last room was similar to the second, being filled with rather dull Victorian photos. This room also had a plastic Q
ueen Victoria (made in 1983) placed in the centre of the room - as important an exhibit as the rest. Back in the hallway is the ugly photograph taken by Richard Fillingham (currently at the Saatchi Gallery) of his obese mother, as well as other more contemporary pieces. This exhibition is loaded with meaning and significance, ready and waiting to be unfolded if you have the time. That was what struck me as interesting about it - the viewer really has to work, and observe, to understand what is being said. I like this aspect of the work because I enjoy exploring a subject, but I don't think many people would have the patience or interest. Haacke's work is deceptively dull, but ultimately fascinating. I really recomment seeing it if you can tolerate the initial feeling that it would be better just to go to the V&A to see the pieces in their original context. It is original and interesting, and so different from the usual hard-edged white cube, chrome surfaced kind of modern art. The best way, we found, to get to the Serpentine, is to take the tube to Lancaster Gate and then walk through the park. The leaflet suggests that you go from South Kensington tube station, but this is further, unless you want to go to the V&A first. The gallery is free to visitors, but generally people make a donation on entry. Access for wheelchairs is good because it is all at ground level. Children might be bored by the exhibition, and the gallery is a bit wary of them because the exhibits are so delicate. It has a fantastic (but, as usual, expensive) shop, which is terrible for people like me who want everything and can afford nothing - not even with all these dooyoo vouchers I'm earning!!
The Serpentine is a small art gallery in the middle of Hyde Park, near to the Kensington Gardens end. If you consult the park maps its fairly easy to find. It's hard to say which is the nearest tube as you have to walk through the park. I would probably pick Queensway but you will still have about a 15-20 min stroll through the park to get there. The 52 bus may go closer (Kensington Gore side). This gallery is great, even though it may be small, it's very light and modern and I've seen a lot of very interesting stuff there. They change the material regularly so you need to consult "Hot Tickets" or "Time Out" magazines to check what's there when you go, but if you turn up anyway, you won't be disappointed. I have seen one of Louise Bourgeois' spiders there, I have seen art by a muslim woman including short films and drawings relating to her culture, I have seen the floor covered in sliver wrapped sweets where you are invited to take one and many other different and unusual pieces. Even if you're not a great art lover and don't normally visit art galleries, you will still usually find something of interest. I seen quite a number of exhibitions here, I can't recall all the artists off hand, but this is definitely a gallery that I would recommend a visit to, you don't have to pay for entry and you also get a lovely stroll in Hyde park thrown in for free. It also has baby change and disabled facilities available if you need them.
Honestly, if you're not really into art as a rule I can still recommend the Serpentine Gallery as a quality little number. And what, precisely, would my reasoning be? Easy, it's very small, you can go round in about half an hour and still have a good look at all the exhibits on display. I've seen a couple of artists there, and I've never been disappointed by the quality of the setting and arrangements of the displays. The actual works of art were all right an' all. Here's the best bit: it's totally free and situated right inside Kensington Gardens, so why not make a day of it by having a picnic in the park with a bit of footie and a quick trip to the Serpentine to get cultured up.
This free gallery is one of the most prestigious in London. Situated in the middle of Hyde Park, near the Serpentine lake (duh!), it hosts a different exhibition every month or so, and they're always worth seeing. Recent shows have included Louise Bourgeois, an exhibition dealing with nature and artifice, Japanese pop artist Mariko Mori and a show by the set designer of the James Bond films. Quality material, in short - even if I haven't heard of the artist (which I usually haven't)I'll always go and check out what's on, and have never been disappointed.