I think that there has been a point in the past year and a half when the Serpentine Gallery’s directors evidenced exhaustion and a certain lack of intelligence apart from the aerobics of find raising (Peyton Jones) and name dropping (Obrist). Julia Peyton Jones seems to be competent enough for upstaging her own idea of how posh she is. She deploys that self fulfilled prophecy of what a posh Briton is very efficiently with the American, in particular, those self made plutocrats like former Mayor Bloomberg who think they need some Old World respectability attached to their billions. On the other hand, the Serpentine’s co-director of exhibitions, Hans Obrist Ulrich has transformed his schizoid approach to art into an exhibition programme that keeps going downwards. The Sackler’s Wing has been pointless from the very beginning and Zaha Hadid’s design for the coffee shop already looks dated only a few months after its opening.
The show that is currently taking place there could be considered the sum of all fears for those of us who are watching this institution ongoing self harm orgy. The first paragraph of the institutional introduction of designer Martino Gamper’s show says it all:
“‘Design is a state of mind ‘will present a landscape of shelving systems, telling the story of design objects and their impact on our lives. This is the second major design exhibition staged by the Serpentine, following Design Real curated by Konstantin Grcic in 2009” About this show,the designer himself, Martino Gamper said: “There is no perfect design and there is no über-design. Objects talk to us personally. Some might be more functional than others, and the emotional attachment is very individual. This exhibition will showcase a very personal way of collecting and gathering objects – these are pieces that tell a tale.”
At first glance there is an art theoretical contradiction that highlights the curatorial confusion reigning at the Serpentine. I am referring to the contradiction between the first (institutional) paragraph and Martino Gamper’s view because, on one hand, the visitor is supposed to see ‘a landscape of shelving systems’ but on the other hand, its ‘designers’ expects us to understand the tale that he is trying to tell. Is this a landscape or a story? Is this descriptive or explicative? I do not think either of them even know what is the difference that I am presenting here. The result, however, is a concoction of silly shelves posing as ‘works of art’ where ‘items’ are placed as if they were ‘works of art’ in a cabinet of curiosity. Is this exhibition thought to look like a Wunderkammer or to allegorises Wunderkammers?
An extensive display of shelving systems from the 1930s to the present day constitute the main narrative that Gamper seems willing to tell, though. Ranging from historic design classics and one-off pieces, to industrial, utilitarian, contemporary and newly commissioned work, the exhibition will include designs by Gaetano Pesce, Ettore Sottsass, Ercol, Gio Ponti and IKEA. Each ‘display system’ is used to organise and exhibit collections of objects curated from the personal archives of Gamper’s friends and colleagues as well as an extensive library of contemporary furniture manufacturing catalogues from around the world.
The show, works as a Russian mamushka where the Sackler’s Wing as a building is a shelf containing many shelves which, at the same time, contain many things as in a cabinet of curiosities inside a cabinet of curiosities. The problem is that there is nothing interesting (or that could be considered as a ‘curiosity’) here and the very few things that could be of (maybe historical?) interest are destroyed but the wunderkammer salat that the pretentiousness of this show suggests. During my visit, everybody was bored but to the point of not respecting the objects as relevant, the guards felt uncomfortable, the tourists were trying to make some sense of it and thank God that I live just metres from there because if not I would have been very unhappy. In other words, this show is utter and total frigid shit. Just a thought.