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May 31 2012

Ai Weiwei misses opening of his Serpentine pavilion

Chinese artist is not allowed to leave China but sends message thanking collaborators Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron

Ai Weiwei is one third of the creative team which has designed the 12th summer pavilion for London's Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, but the artist was glaringly absent from its unveiling.

The 54-year-old artist is still not allowed to leave China following his arrest and detention last year. In lieu of the real thing, the gallery screened a message from Ai in which he expressed gratitude for the invitation to renew a collaboration with the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

"I have worked with Herzog and de Meuron on several projects," said Ai. "We have very good communication and each collaboration is very meaningful."

The pavilion unveiled on the gallery's small lawn is a landscape in cork. Visitors walk down cork floors beneath the lawn and can sit on cork mushroom-shaped chairs. Above them is a floating platform roof which collects water and becomes a mirror, reflecting the changes in the London sky.

The pavilion has become one of the most interesting annual architecture commissions and has seen designs by superstar names including Zaha Hadid, Oscar Niemeyer, Frank Gehry and, last year, Peter Zumthor.

This being Olympic year, the Serpentine chose to invite the three men responsible for the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing.

In a design statement, Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron said they wanted to investigate the 11 pavilions which had gone before them "like a team of archaeologists".

Ai said: "As an artist, I am always very interested to put art, design, architecture and social change together to make new possibilities. For this Serpentine Pavilion, we tried to study what happened before and we also asked ourselves why we need to make a new design for this event. We focused on memory and the past. We made a study to dig into the meaning of this total act and from that a very interesting result came out, which I think gives this pavilion a new meaning."

Jacques Herzog said they were extremely pleased with the result given they only had a few weeks to get it up. "Some times small works require as much energy on the part of the designers and creators as large works and for us it has always been very important that we work on different scales.

"It is not new for us to work with Ai, we've been involved with projects with him for 10 years. It is a natural thing. Okay, working via Skype is not ideal but because we have such a friendship we can do it and it felt good.

"It is nice that we can reflect the sky of London, which is so lively."

The Serpentine's director, Julia Peyton-Jones, admitted it was something of an achievement to get the pavilion up at all after the rain in April. It opens to the public on Saturday and will be in place for three months as a venue for events, talks and a fundraising party. The pavilion has been bought by the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and his wife Usha and they will take ownership at the end of the summer.

Ai has become a symbol for human rights activists in China since spending 81 days in custody last year – much of it incommunicado – on tax avoidance charges many say are trumped up.

He is able to work but not yet leave China, and his ordeal has had the opposite effect to which the Chinese authorities wanted, with Time Magazine naming him runner up in their Person of the Year list and Art Review placing him first in its Power 100list last year.


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May 08 2012

Serpentine pavilion goes underground with Ai Weiwei and Swiss architects – in pictures

This year's Serpentine pavilion, designed by Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron, will take visitors below the lawn of the London gallery into an underground maze of contoured cork



February 10 2012

Constructive criticism

Moby sings the praises of strange LA architecture, Ai Weiwei prepares to make a splash at the Serpentine pavilion, and there's a towering new board game in town

Watch your throne Kanye West; there's a new musician-slash-architecture freak in the blogosphere. It's Moby! Having turned his hand to everything from photography, to social activism to vegan tea shop entrepreneurialism, this week, the former rave titan launched his own Los Angeles architecture blog.

"One of the things that fascinates and baffles me about LA is the randomness and accidental beauty and strangeness of the architecture here. Every day I arbitrarily see buildings and houses and odd structures that go from the beautiful to the banal," writes Moby, who's clearly had better luck finding strange architecture than he has locating his "shift" key. Modestly describing himself as a "dilettante architectural photographer", Moby repeatedly admits the pointlessness of his own project – far more than he needs to.

So far, he's unearthed romantic cottages that would look at home in the home counties, a white modernist hillside villa (which calls to mind Eileen Gray's famous e1027 home, 20th-century moorish fantasy castles and photogenic little wooden shacks – each annotated by his unassuming philosophical musings. The "decontextualised randomness" of LA's architecture appeals to him – and it's an education for the rest of us. Let's see how long he can keep it up. Go Moby!

Back down to earth, literally, for the Serpentine Gallery's announcement that their pavilion this year will be designed by Swiss superstars Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei – which will be mostly underground. This is the first time the Serpentine has commissioned architects who have already built something in the UK: Herzog & de Meuron gave us the Tate Modern, of course, whose turbine hall Ai filled with his Sunflower Seeds in 2010. The first signs of H & deM's delayed Tate Extension will also emerge for the Olympics – new galleries converted from the building's underground oil tanks. Herzog, de Meuron and Ai's collaborations go back to the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, so there's a neat symmetry here – not to mention a tacit political point, given the Chinese authorities' recent detention of Ai.

As for the pavilion itself, it involves digging five feet down, beneath the Serpentine's lawn, to groundwater level. "There we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion," they say. They're calling it an "archaeological approach"; at the moment it sounds more like a muddy puddle.

That wasn't the only moist-sounding Olympic-timed pavilion unveiled this week, though. London 2012's "Official Automotive Partner", BMW, also released impressions of their temporary structure, situated between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatic Centre. Designed by British practice Serie, it will use river water for cooling, resulting in eye-catching waterfalls down the facade. It's not that new; a similar water system was used by Nicholas Grimshaw for his British Pavilion at Expo 92 in Seville. Still, it "reflects our commitment to sustainable thinking", says the manufacturer of extremely green automobiles (and colossal, gas-guzzling Chelsea tractors). If they put their waterfall next to the Serpentine puddle, they could be on to something.

On firmer ecological ground, London Eye architects Marks Barfield are designing a scientific research centre in the middle of the Amazon jungle that draws on their Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens. Except here, in north-east Brazil, there will be six miles of treetop walkways, plus basic labs and other buildings on the ground, and a spiralling observation tower that rises above the rainforest canopy – the Amazon Eye, perhaps?

The British-based Amazon Charitable Trust are behind it and, needless to say, sustainability is paramount – which means providing jobs for the local river tribe and attracting eco-tourism as well as scientific researchers. Only certain building materials can be brought into the area, too, so the tower will be made out of bamboo grown onsite.

Finally, as it's Valentine's Day on Tuesday, a couple of gift ideas for the design-minded romantic.

Vitra are releasing limited red-and-white editions of two complementary mid-century design classics: the Eames's Hang It All coat rack and George Nelson's Ball Clock. The pair will set you back £378 – but should last longer than a bunch flowers.

Or why not get the design smart-arse in your life The Modern Architecture Game? This architecture-fixated alternative to Trivial Pursuit was devised by Dutch team NEXT in 1999, but they've just updated it and produced it in English for the first time. It's nicely designed, naturally, with counters modelled on iconic buildings ... and a pair of Le Corbusier sunglasses that must be worn when it's your go. Test your knowledge of quotes, images, famous buildings, etc – and alienate your non-architectural friends even further.


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February 07 2012

Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron to make Serpentine pavilion

Chinese artist and Swiss architects who together designed stadium for 2008 Games collaborate on London 2012 project

Four years after designing the spectacular Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing, the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei are to reunite for a London 2012 project.

The Serpentine Gallery announced on Tuesday that the Beijing team would collaborate once more to design this year's pavilion – the 12th commission in what has become a major annual event on the architecture calendar.

Julia Peyton-Jones, the director of the Serpentine, said it was "tremendously exciting". She added: "What is so fantastic is that it is this extraordinary link of the two games, a Beijing-London axis.

"These are old and dear friends, so for them [Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron and Ai Weiwei] they are picking up where they left off – it is a continuation of a conversation that began in Beijing to great effect and they have conceived something really remarkable for our lawn."

The involvement of Ai will be cheering news for anyone familiar with the tumultuous year he has had.

In 2010 he won global attention for his Tate Modern turbine hall commission in which he filled the space with 100m porcelain sunflower seeds. Things then took a dramatic turn last April when he was arrested and held without charge for nearly three months by the Chinese authorities, a move generally seen as a punishment for his outspoken views and activism. He was held incommunicado and interrogated more than 50 times for, the authorities later said, supposed breaches of tax laws.

In an interview with Guardian last November Ai admitted that the threat of being arrested once more was always there – "Every day I think: 'This will be the day I will be taken in again.'"

Ai has been planning the project with Herzog and de Meuron using Skype and it remains to be seen whether he will be allowed to leave China by the time the pavilion is up in June.

A few details of their plans have been revealed including the indication of it being the lowest pavilion ever, with the roof barely 5ft off the ground. People will be able to go under it because they also plan to dig down a few feet.

In a joint statement they said they would celebrate all the past pavilions as well as their own but it would not look like anything that had gone before. "So many pavilions in so many different shapes and out of so many different materials have been conceived and built that we tried instinctively to sidestep the unavoidable problem of creating an object, a concrete shape."

There will be 12 columns – 11 representing the past pavilions and one for the present – supporting a floating platform roof 5ft from the ground. That roof will collect rain water and reflect the sky as well as being capable of being drained and used for special events "as a dance floor or simply as a platform suspended above the park".

The pavilion, they promise, will become "the perfect place to sit, stand, lie down or just look and be amazed".

It will go up in June as part of the London 2012 festival, a jamboree of events across the UK which will mark the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.

The pavilion designers follow some impressive names, starting in 2000 with Zaha Hadid and including the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, Olafur Eliasson and Peter Zumthor, who designed it last year.


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December 11 2011

The best architecture of 2011: Rowan Moore's choice

It was the year of pop-ups and postmodernism – and the playful Frank Gehry went sky high

In New York they managed to complete the vast 9/11 memorial fountains in time for the 10th anniversary of the events of 2001, while around them rises the strange spectacle of commercial skyscrapers sponsored at huge expense from the public purse. Also in New York, Frank Gehry completed his tower of flats in Spruce Street with a playful beauty that has not been seen in skyscraper design for a while. These days, it's fashionable to knock Gehry for being the father of iconic building, but this tower, and his New World Symphony in Miami, shows that he is what has always been: a proper architect who likes to enjoy himself.

Last year the Serpentine Gallery got the turkey award in this space with its pavilion by Jean Nouvel; now it gets into the top 10 with Peter Zumthor's version of its annual commission. Pop-ups, identified as craze of the year in 2010, are still popping up, with Assemble's Folly for a Flyover leading the field. Olympic projects, such as the stadium and the aquatic centre, are getting their final buff and polish. Both are looking good, if you overlook the temporary add-ons on the latter, and the pointless plastic wrapper planned for the former, supplied courtesy of the Bhopal-implicated Dow Chemical Company.

In other news, postmodernism continued its inevitable revival. The magnificent James Stirling was honoured with a show at Tate Britain, and the V&A is currently revisiting the age of Grace Jones and leopard-skin Formica.

In a strong field of turkeys, the catastrophic Museum of Liverpool breasts the tape ahead of Rafael Viñoly's Firstsite in Colchester, the underwhelming new home of the BBC in Salford Quays and the anti-urban Westfield Stratford City.

TOP 10

8 Spruce Street, New York

Dazzling, elegant fun from Frank Gehry.

The Hepworth Wakefield

David Chipperfield completed two of his sober, considered, light-filled art galleries in 2011, in Margate and Wakefield. The one in Wakefield is the more convincing of the two.

New Court, London

Financial prestige meets cultural super-sophistication in Rem Koolhaas's headquarters for Rothschild.

Brockholes Visitor Village, Preston

A very nice place for looking at nature, on the edge of Preston, by Adam Khan. It floats.

Folly for a Flyover, London

Assemble, maker of the 2010 hit Cineroleum, maintained its form with this temporary cinema/bar/performance space under an elevated section of the A12.

Aquatic Centre, London

Breathtaking inside. Will look good outside, after the Olympics, when they have removed the giant water-wings that contain temporary seating.

Olympic Stadium, London

Handsome in its simplicity, until they wreck it with a festive wrapper for the Games.

Lyric theatre, Belfast

Just plain good, by the Dublin practice O'Donnell and Tuomey.

Maggie's Centres

Three more in the series of high-design cancer centres. The one in Glasgow, by OMA, and the one in Nottingham, by Piers Gough and Paul Smith, stand out.

Serpentine Gallery pavilion, London

An arena for watching plants grow, by Peter Zumthor.

TURKEY

Museum of Liverpool

Confused, expensive, misguided and offensive to the adjoining "Three Graces". Otherwise OK.


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November 30 2011

From Rabbie to Rubens

To celebrate 10 years of free museum entry, Chris Smith, the politician who ended charging, introduces the big name curators and gallery-goers we asked to pick their favourite work. But what is yours? Have your say below

I remember, as a student, being very struck by a poster arguing against an attempt by Edward Heath's government to bring in museum charges. It said: "We the undersigned oppose the introduction of admission charges" and carried the signatures of Van Gogh, Titian, Turner and some 50 other great artists. It made me realise a simple truth: that free admission is all about giving everyone, no matter what their means, the chance to see the greatest works of art, science and history that our nation has.

Over the following three decades, charges were indeed brought in. Some national collections valiantly held out against the tide; but most succumbed to charging, and in some cases the charges were high. To bring a family to the Science Museum or Natural History Museum became a substantial financial undertaking.

When I became Secretary of State in 1997, I was determined to change this. I believed passionately that these great treasure houses belonged to us all, and should be available for free, for ever. It took me four years to achieve that: convincing reluctant colleagues; securing additional funding; persuading some museum directors; achieving the removal of VAT. It was worth it, though; and the surge in visitor numbers – up by 150% over the last decade – has proved it.

On the day free admission began, 10 years ago, I was invited to cut the ribbon and throw open the doors at the Science Museum. About half an hour later, I was standing in the foyer, and a man approached me, carrying his daughter on his shoulders. He looked up at her and said, "I want you to say thank you to this man. It's because of him we're able to be here today." That, too, made it worth it. Chris Smith

Nicholas Serota, director, Tate

One of the great atrocities of the Spanish civil war was the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the German air force, lending their support to the Nationalist forces of General Franco. Picasso responded to the massacre by painting the vast mural Guernica, and for months afterwards made subsidiary paintings based on one of the figures in the mural: a weeping woman holding her dead child. Weeping Woman in Tate's collection is the last and most elaborate of the series. A portrait of Picasso's mistress, Dora Maar, the painting is an extraordinary depiction of female grief and a metaphor for a Spanish tragedy.

The Sir John Soane's Museum is one of my favourite small museums. The eight paintings in William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress series can rightly be described as one of the great masterpieces of British art. Created by Hogarth, the great 18th-century painter, engraver and satirist, they give us an acute glimpse into London life of the period, and the antics of its faded aristocracy and nouveau riche. The paintings were originally hung at Soane's country villa, but were moved back to Lincoln's Inn Fields (now the Soane museum) in 1810. They were hung in a new picture room at the rear of the house, where they remain today.

Joan Bakewell, broadcaster

If they start charging for museums I will go spare with rage; it's been a great leap forward. The Cholmondeley Ladies (1600-10) at Tate Britain is one of my favourites to drop in and see. I take the grandchildren to visit them all the time. Everyone can relate to it: they're like reassuring family friends – "Let's go and visit the Cholmondeley sisters." It's so lovely how very different from each other they are, but how much the same. You get pleasure from them: they're women; they're siblings; they look beautiful; they're a reflection of an earlier time; they're all the very simple things you enjoy in a painting. And they must have their own stories: the painting is full of possibilities.

Nicholas Penny, director, National Gallery

The painting most appropriate for this particular anniversary is Rubens's Peace and War, the proper title of which is Minerva Protects Pax from Mars – though I hate that title. It was a diplomatic gift from Rubens to Charles I, when the painter was acting as an envoy for Philip IV, but nevertheless seems to me a painting for everyone. It is allegory, it's portraiture, it's animal painting, it's fruit-and-vegetable painting, it's got quite a lot of landscape, it's got the female nude, it's got men in armour. It was a gift from the Duke of Sutherland to the newly founded National Gallery about 200 years after it was painted, an amazing gesture of support: the Duke was donating one of the most valuable paintings in London.

The work of art I always visit when I go to the Victoria and Albert museum is a white jade cup that is known to have been used by Shah Jahan, one of the great Moghul rulers of India. Curiously, it's not that different in date from the Rubens: the middle of the 17th century. It reminds me of the game animal, vegetable or mineral. It shows the transparency as well as the hardness of jade, but at the same time incorporates animal and vegetable: the lotus flower at the foot, and the head of an ibex, which forms the handle. It epitomises the art of so many different cultures although it's a quintessential, high quality product of Islamic civilisation. This and the Rubens are two pieces of court culture completely accessible to the man in the street.

Lauren Laverne, broadcaster

At the V&A Museum of Childhood in east London there is a Dutch doll's house from the 1600s. It's very beautiful and the craftsmanship that went into it is mindblowing. It's also interesting because it shows how a house ran at that time, in that place. The idea behind it was to teach little girls how to become wives; it illustrates how much of our culture is indoctrinated into us through play and leisure.

Whenever I go into the British Museum, that ceiling in the atrium makes you look up, and as soon as you look up like that you're like a kid again. It puts you into an inquisitive, exploratory frame of mind. That's what I like about the Museum of Childhood, too: it's a lovely blend of history, mystery and fun.

John Leighton, director, National Galleries of Scotland

The portrait of Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth, made in 1787, is probably the best-known portrait in our collection, which opens free to the public today. Like many people, I saw it first on a shortbread tin, but when you come face to face with the original it's astonishingly vivid, and you can feel that spirit of democracy and generosity Burns is famed for. The artist left it unfinished because he was afraid to lose what he said was a superb likeness. In among all the grand, eloquent portraits of powerful people in this gallery, this small, modest picture speaks very loudly indeed.

My favourite work in another gallery is from the National in London. It's another portrait, this time by Jacques-Louis David of Jacobus Blauw, a young Dutch ambassador trying to negotiate a peace treaty with France. It's a very direct rendering of the clarity and youthful idealism people associated with the French revolution. If you imagine that this is 1795, with guillotines crashing all over the place, you'd have to be a particularly skilled diplomat to negotiate with the revolutionary government. The portrait gives no indication of that hardship – instead, you're drawn in by the rendering of the materials, the steely blue jacket with a hint of his hair powder on the collar, and this pink face that engages you so directly you feel you've come eye-to-eye with this young Dutchman.

AL Kennedy, author

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow has a wonderful full-length statue of Robert Louis Stevenson. He's a writer I hugely admire, and the piece seems to catch something of his spirit in a way photographs of him don't. When I first moved to Glasgow and was very much a tyro writer, I would occasionally wander off to Kelvingrove and potter. The building was – and is – beautifully uplifting in itself, and much warmer than I could afford to keep my flat. I would always end up spending a while with the RLS statue. It's not idealised like his memorial in Saint Giles, or the standard depictions of the great and good; he looks like someone who thought and travelled and had a lean kind of energy and efficiency about him. I find it inspirational.

Christopher Brown, director, Ashmolean Museum

I'm going to be a little opportunistic and choose an object from our new Egyptian galleries. I'm hugely moved by a remarkable mace head we have that dates from 3,000 BC and comes from Hierakonpolis. It's called the scorpion mace head and depicts an emperor. He's wearing the crown of Upper Egypt and he's hunting. I'm just enormously impressed by its sophistication as a piece of early sculpture: eat your heart out, Donatello.

I worked for many years at the National in London. I particularly love a late painting there by Giovanni Bellini, the Madonna of the Meadow. It shows the virgin with Christ in her lap, but it's a premonition of the Pietà. It has a beautiful, desolate landscape on the left, and on the right a prosperous landscape with a beautiful view of the area north of Venice where Bellini was working. When I worked at the National, one of the great joys was that people would drop in to the gallery between trains at Charing Cross, to come in and see something. You don't feel: "Well, I've spent £5 – I've got to make it worth my while." You can just go and look at a single picture. That to me is the key to free admission.

Michael Dixon, director, Natural History Museum

The Archaeopteryx lithographica is the most valuable single fossil in our collection. It is a famous snapshot of evolution in action that demonstrates conclusively that modern birds are descended from dinosaurs. It has huge scientific, historical and financial value. Elsewhere, the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum is fundamentally important to our understanding of archaeology and ancient cultures.

Julia Peyton-Jones, co-director, Serpentine Gallery

We don't have a permanent collection, but the Serpentine Pavilion series, now in its 11th year, allows the public to enjoy the work of international architects who haven't yet completed a building in the UK, for three months over the summer. My favourite pavilion? I couldn't possibly say!

The Turbine Hall commissions at Tate Modern are an extraordinary rollcall of some of the greatest practitioners of today. Louise Bourgeois's spider, Maman, and I Do, I Undo, I Redo, launched the whole programme in the most remarkable way. It's wonderful to see how artists address that space.

Sandy Nairne, director, National Portrait Gallery

One of our most enigmatic portraits is the famous Chandos portrait of Shakespeare by John Taylor of 1610. It's wonderfully mysterious. Taylor is not an artist we know a great deal about, and there's been plenty of speculation as to whether this was taken from life. For me, the idea of why we look at portraits of figures in history is embodied in this picture. I look at it at least two or three times a week. We refer to it as our No 1 because it is the first portrait that entered the collection in 1856, given by Lord Earlsmere.

I often go and look at Rembrandt's Self-Portrait at the Age of 34 next door in the National Gallery. It's not very different in date from the Shakespeare – it's 1640 – but is the absolute complement: whereas the Taylor is all about Shakespeare, this is about Rembrandt himself. Like all great self-portraits, it makes you question who you are and absolutely crosses time – that sense of self-examination. It's just the most brilliant painting, and to be able to just walk in and look at it is a fabulous thing.

Iwona Blazwick, director, Whitechapel Gallery

One of my favourite exhibits currently on display here is the Bloomberg Commission: Josiah McElheny: The Past Was a Mirage I'd Left Far Behind. Large-scale, mirrored sculptures are arranged as multiple reflective screens for the artist's interpretation of experimental abstract films. What is interesting is the way McElheny has responded to the site, which was previously the reading room of the former Whitechapel Library, a haven for early modernist thinkers such as Isaac Rosenberg. The library was built as a "lantern for learning"; McElheny has used the moving images and illumination as central motifs.

Elsewhere, the Sir John Soane's Museum is a delight, with important works from Hogarth to Canaletto set among drawings, historical architectural models and other fascinating antiquities.

Martin Roth, director, Victoria and Albert museum

Our medieval and Renaissance galleries opened two years ago to house one of the world's most remarkable collections of treasures from the period, marking the end of the first phase of our plan to modernise the museum. They host the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside Italy, with an exceptional group of sculptures by Donatello who was the greatest sculptor of his time. I particularly admire this pieceThe Ascension with Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter (1428-30) which combines two different scenes from the Gospels – one of the finest surviving examples of his astonishing low-relief carving technique.

Gauguin was one of the most important artists of the 19th century, and his experimentations with new styles and radical expression continue to inspire people today. Vision after the Sermon is one of the masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery collection and this dramatic work changed the course of the history of art. Gauguin travelled the world and it's fascinating to see the influence of many forms of art in his work, from Japanese prints to ceramics.


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July 02 2011

Junya Ishigami: Architecture of Air

Barbican, London; Serpentine Gallery, London

This must be a first: an architectural installation which, at a total of 300g, weighs the same as its accompanying press pack. Also, an exhibition of architecture which is almost invisible, and beyond the power of photography to capture. Such is Junya Ishigami's Architecture as Air, just opened in the Curve at the Barbican.

Once you have taken your shoes off, and listened to the instructions to take extreme care, you see nothing except the curving gallery itself, its ventilation grilles, lights and electrical conduits. Then you see there are what you might assume are threads, at regular intervals, running from floor to ceiling, and after a while some diagonal threads, cobweb-thin, caught in the light, and that's about it. Emperor's new clothes in its purest form, you might think: nothing masquerading as something.

You will probably need to read the text on the wall, or notice a small, hand-written pencil annotation, to find that the verticals are not actually threads and do not reach the ceiling, but are columns. There are 53 in number, and they are hand-rolled from carbon-fibre sheet. They stand, not hang, braced by the cobwebby diagonals, of which there are 2,756. There are also beams running from column to column, making this the skinniest colonnade in history. "How much does your building weigh?" the American sage Buckminster Fuller used to ask, and he would never have got an answer like this. At the very least, the piece is an extraordinary piece of engineering, achieved with the help of Jun Sato Structural Engineers and, through testing in a full-size mock-up of the Barbican's gallery, erected in a shed in Yokohama.

"I want to make a new scale of architecture, a natural scale, an elemental scale," explains Ishigami, who is dressed in the traditional all-black of designers, but with added attitude. He has skinny jeans, ankle boots and hair escaping in all directions from under his black hat, like a stylish scarecrow, or the weird genius in a Manga story. The columns, he says, are about as thick as raindrops, and the bracing threads are as thick as drops of water vapour in clouds. Where classical architecture is based on the dimensions of the human, this is based on other sizes found in nature. He also says that "in nature structure and space are not divided. Air is space but it also has a structure. But architecture divides these things." He wants his structure, by being so thin, to become "like mist".

The Barbican says that the 37-year-old Ishigami is "internationally acclaimed", and there is certainly a buzz and fascination around him. Last year he won the Golden Lion, the highest prize at the Venice Architecture Biennale, for a structure that collapsed almost as soon as it was built, following an accident with a cat. Little was left but a scrawled note saying "Scusate, si è rotto. I'm sorry It's broken." (And as a result of this Kiplingian-feline experience, from disaster to triumph, from cat to Lion, extra-special care is being taken with the Barbican construction.)

Before that he charmed and intrigued his audiences with installations such as Balloon (2008), a box of aluminium the size of a four-storey house, and weighing a ton, which he filled with helium so that it floated in the galleries of the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art, and could be moved at the touch of a finger. His most significant building to date is the University Project Space at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology, a single open space under a flat oblong roof, supported by irregular groupings of sapling-like columns which are mingled with real plants to create a forest-like effect. For the same campus he has designed a cafe, to be completed next year, which is the opposite – a wide, open, column-free space he describes as "a boundless landscape". His drawings of this project are like none seen from an architect before, with two zones of green-yellow scribble, in various tones, representing ground and ceiling, white silhouettes or people, and almost no sign of structure.

He likes certain themes, such as overlapping buildings and nature, like trees and columns, in such a way that they interact and the distinctions between them blur. He likes to make materials do things you don't expect, like the floating ton of aluminium and the impossibly thin columns. He is capable of doing things that you could not predict from his previous work. He has designed a home for old people with dementia, also to be completed next year, made up of fragments rescued from old houses that were being demolished all over Japan. The theory is that the residents "will naturally recognise the different features" of each structure, which will reduce the disorientation that comes with dementia. "I want to think of so many ways of making beautiful things," he says.

Ishigami used to work for the celebrated practice of SANAA. Kazuyo Sejima, co-founder of SANAA, once worked for the equally celebrated Toyo Ito. He is therefore in a lineage of architects who are preoccupied with what Sejima calls "atmosphere", with lightness and effects of light and appearance. He shares with them, and takes further, a mistrust of architecture's usual ponderousness, and a desire to make it disappear.

What makes Ishigami different are his conceptual leaps, like those of an artist. Much of his reputation so far is based on works in galleries, but he regards these and habitable buildings as all part of the same architectural enterprise, and there is something wonderful about his creative agility. His piece at the Barbican is one of his more cerebral works – you have to know what is going on to get it, and to see the technical achievement – and not the most engaging. But he looks like someone who, once he's sorted out his cat-proofing, really will achieve new ways of imagining and making buildings.

This year's Serpentine Gallery pavilion proceeds by negatives. It is not at first sight the English summer. It is not Wimbledon, not blazing white, not boaters, not Will and Kate. The thing it most resembles is the Chelsea flower show, but not quite like that either.

It presents a matt-black windowless wall, guarded from architecture fanatics before it actually opened to the public last Friday by a huge Slavic bouncer. It is finished in a rough, stained, textured surface, like a superior shed. Then you enter a dark oblong passage before you reach the point of the project, a rough-hewn but highly planned garden by designer Piet Oudolf.

This is the Chelsea bit, but different through its severity, pleasure held back until you see the plants. The blackness and plainness is intended to intensify the experience, including the sky above, the clouds, rain and sun, and other people. It is also unlike the Chelsea flower show in that it lasts longer, until October, and will, Oudolf says, "get better as long as it grows". It is unlike the Serpentine's usual pavilions in that, conceived in the era of spectacular corporate sponsorship, they are usually hurried things of partying and show. Peter Zumthor, the Swiss architect of the structure, usually likes to work slowly and intensely.

This means that there is – intentionally – not the density of detail that his work usually has, and there are things like fire hoses, highlighted as intensely as the sky, which he would rather weren't there. But there is also method in this combining of eminent architecture and plants and people.

Both Oudolf and Zumthor say the point of the space is to bring people together, which, to an unprecedented degree, it could do. And, with a magic rectangle of admittedly less vigorous action, it is like a slowed-down Centre Court after all.


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June 30 2011

Serpentine pavillion 2011: 'I hope people relax here' – video

Peter Zumthor, the Swiss architect behind this year's Serpentine pavilion, on creating a secluded sanctuary garden in the centre of London



June 27 2011

Serpentine pavilion 2011 by Peter Zumthor – in pictures

Architect Peter Zumthor's Serpentine pavilion celebrates the tranquil effects of nature, with a courtyard garden wrapped protectively in a black cloak



Swiss-made Serpentine pavilion presents garden of tranquility

Architect Peter Zumthor's shed-like Serpentine pavilion offers London an escape into a floriated garden of monastic calm

A blackbird sang so loudly from a tree overlooking the cloistered garden of this year's Serpentine gallery pavilion in London's Kensington Gardens, that it was all but impossible to hear what Peter Zumthor, its architect (below), was saying to press gathered to experience this extraordinary black-clad timber building that opens to the public on Friday.

The Swiss architect, however, must have been happy with the sonorous bird because, as he told me: "This should be an escape, a place where nature is framed and compressed." Perhaps so, although a noisy generator, a low-flying helicopter, power-hammering from a nearby building site and the chatter of the press made Zumthor's exquisite hidden garden feel more like opening day at the Chelsea flower show than a retreat into floriated, birdsong-haunted monastic calm.

The idea behind this, the 11th Serpentine pavilion, is ambitious. How can it be possible to shape a public garden in central London that offers a still, and scented, place in a fast-turning world? And especially when the Serpentine's summer pavilions are among the most popular seasonal attractions in the city?

The Art Newspaper's annual visitor survey showed the 2010 pavilion by French architect Jean Nouvel as the fourth most visited architecture or design exhibition held worldwide last year. Up to 800,000 visitors a year have come to Kensington Gardens to see what the likes of Zaha Hadid (2000), Oscar Niemeyer (2003) and Frank Gehry (2008) have conjured into adventurous forms of concrete, timber and steel.

For all 11 of its commissioned architects, these pavilions have been their first buildings in England. Best known for his atmospheric, hauntingly beautiful Thermal Baths in Vals (1996), Switzerland, and the deeply moving Kolumba Museum of Sacred Art in Cologne (2007), Zumthor is known for designing just one immaculately crafted building at a time. Working from a village in the Chur valley, the former cabinet maker can make all his works feel numinous.

The intensely black Serpentine pavilion is really little more than a perfectly proportioned wooden agricultural shed – you can easily imagine hens, cows and horses here – with a garden at its centre and a bench, stained Prussian blue, running all around it. Here, you are invited, perhaps along with 800,000 other visitors, to sit quietly and contemplate the central flower garden planted by celebrated Dutch landscape gardener Piet Oudolf, the summer sky framed by the pavilion's deep eaves above the plants and the ineffable darkness of the enveloping walls and dark corridors surrounding them.

"Make of it what you like", says Zumthor. "There is no hidden, or even obvious, meaning here. This is a place for you to be. To be. Nothing else." In his architect's statement, Zumthor adds, "Every time I imagine a garden in an architectural setting, it turns into a magical place. I think of gardens I have seen, that I believe I have seen, that I long to see, surrounded by simple walls, columns, arcades or the facades of buildings – sheltered places of great intimacy where I want to stay for a long time."

With the exception of blackbirds, visitors to the 2011 Serpentine pavilion should be asked to turn down their personal and collective volume, although Zumthor's enigmatic work might just do this for them.


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April 04 2011

Secret garden at the Serpentine

Swiss master architect will create contemplative garden courtyard enclosed by lightweight black-clad structure

Peter Zumthor, Swiss master of meditative, one-off, and highly crafted buildings, has released images of his design for this year's Serpentine Gallery pavilion in London's Kensington Gardens. The pavilion, which opens in July and closes in September, will take the form of a contemplative garden courtyard created by the Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, enclosed by a low-key and lightweight timber structure Zumthor plans to wrap and coat with scrim and black paste mixed with sand. Visitors will enter the low-lying pavilion through a number of doors and follow several different paths between outer and inner walls into Zumthor and Oudolf's secret garden.

The idea underpinning the design is that of a garden of quiet pleasure and ruminative calm set just a couple of minutes from the 24-hour motorised roar of Kensington Gore. "The concept", says Zumthor, "is the hortus conclusus, a contemplative room, a garden within a garden. The building acts as a stage, a backdrop for the interior garden of flowers and light. Through blackness and shadow one enters the building from the lawn and begins the transition into the central garden, a place abstracted from the world of noise and traffic and the smells of London – an interior space within which to sit, to walk, to observe the flowers. This experience will be intense and memorable, as will the materials themselves – full of memory and time."

In practice, it will be interesting to see how the Serpentine Gallery attempts to maintain an aura of floral calm in what, for the past decade and more, has been one of the most popular of the art world's summer events. With Zumthor offering a marriage of the Serpentine pavilion and the Chelsea flower show, crowds flocking to this nominally tranquil and self-effacing black-clad building may well be larger, and noisier, than usual. Zumthor, however, says his design "aims to help its audience take the time to relax, to observe and then, perhaps, start to talk again."

As with architects of the previous 10 Serpentine pavilions, Zumthor's is the architect's first completed building in England. The series began with Zaha Hadid in 2000 and has included such giants as Oscar Niemeyer, Alvaro Siza, Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry. What makes Zumthor stand out from such famous company is the fact that he tends to design just one carefully considered building at a time. Recently, he turned down an opportunity to consider a new library for Magdalen College, Oxford that most architects would have welcomed like manna from heaven. Like the most beautiful gardens, Zumthor's architecture is not to be hurried.

Zumthor, born in Basel in 1943, trained as a cabinet-maker before training as an architect. He came to international attention with the exquisite thermal baths he designed in Vals, a village in Switzerland's Graubünden canton. At once ancient and modern, the atmospheric baths, completed in 1996, form a gently haunting part of the natural landscape. Crafted from layers of local quartzite, they are truly beautiful and sited well away from the summer crowds of Swiss cities.

Since then, Zumthor's Kunsthaus in Bregenz, Austria, Kolumba Art Museum, Cologne and Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, on a farm near Wachendorf, Germany have added greatly to his reputation. He won the Pritzker prize for architecture in 2009.

Zumthor's Serpentine pavilion, designed in cooperation with the engineers, Arup, will operate as a public space and as a venue for Park Nights, the gallery's high-profile programme of public talks and events.

Julia Peyton-Jones, director of the Serpentine Gallery, said: "It is an honour and a great joy to be working with Peter Zumthor on the 11th Serpentine Gallery pavilion. The commission allows us to connect with the best architects in the world and each year is an exciting and completely new experience. Zumthor's plans will realise an exquisite space for the public to enjoy throughout the summer."


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December 09 2010

Moving pictures

Serpentine gallery, London

New ideas are everywhere in British politics. Let's measure national happiness! Let's make welfare proactive! The problem is that so many of these big ideas for a "big society" come from a government whose painful economic policies make the enthusiastic ideological overproduction look like the most cynical window-dressing – liberal-minded tinsel on a Tory tree whose needles turn out to be razors. Is nobody doing any ambitious social thinking that is not a veil for callous cuts?

Step forward, the Serpentine gallery. This will come as no surprise to fans of its co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist, whose publications, projects and patronage of artists amount to a sustained attempt to reconnect art, ideas, and the world and have made the Serpentine the most creative public art space in London. The latest manifestation of the slightly wacky sense of mission that flourishes at the Serpentine is a community art project with a difference. Skills Exchange brings together artists and community groups and makes a point of linking young artists and older people: out of a residency by artist Tom Hunter on the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney, east London, comes a film he made with older residents called A Palace for Us.

This is a magical film. It weaves the memories of people who grew up in east London and have lived on the estate since it opened into a silvery thread of meaning illuminated by dramatisations of their experiences filmed in the aged, but dignified, Woodberry Down buildings and public spaces. The estate, begun in 1946 and completed in 1963, was like a "palace" to those who remembered the East End slums, remembers one participant. But the film is also a palace of memory. Contemporary art often seems obsessed with youth: here it listens to the stories the old have to tell.

It evokes all our stories. Britain in 1945, out of the ruins of war, built the welfare state that clever rich kids are now so casually pulling apart. Estates like Woodberry Down embody an ideal of decent housing for all that was born out of the miseries of the 1930s and terror of the 1940s. A Palace for Us gently and acutely bears witness to this history that is now being dismantled.

Hunter's film is not a rant, but a moving homage to lives and memories that today are obliterated by harsh and violent caricatures of the white working class. Everyone should go to the Serpentine to learn to see through his subjects' eyes. The government should go.

Rating: 4/5


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December 01 2010

Reel to reel: Philippe Parreno

The new four-film show by the Algerian artist behind Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait coerces his audience from reel to reel, dramatically altering what it means to view video art

Snow drifts at the windows of the Serpentine Gallery and the glass is fogged, as though invisible children were clamouring against it. I write this on a day when real snow has fallen – and the ice on the Serpentine lake is authentic enough (just ask the waterfowl sliding and waddling on it). But the snowflakes in front of the gallery churn from a machine on the building's pediment, and the ghostly breath has been etched by acid on the windows. The idea that real and fake snow might fall as one, and that cold breath from inquisitive passersby might mingle with etched mist, somehow has a magical synchronicity.

Philippe Parreno's Serpentine exhibition is a delight. The Algerian has bought together four short film and video works – the longest lasts 10 and a half minutes – very different in tempo, subject matter and approach, for a show that might best be described as a single ensemble piece. As one film ends in one gallery, the blinds at the windows rise, while in the next space they descend and the lights go off.

This is not the first exhibition to attempt to locate works in such a theatrical setting. Albanian artist Anri Sala did something similar at the Couvent de Cordeliers in Paris in 2004, plunging the medieval convent into grey crepuscular light and lining the place with grey felt walls to create a backdrop for several very different works. But Parreno's show goes further. The whole exhibition is a kind of journey the audience has to follow. The experience feels communal, and I think this, too, is intended by the artist. He seems concerned with how long people spend looking at a single work: here, only one work is available to look at any time. The artist coerces us into going with him.

Parreno's film No More Reality opens the show. In 1991, he gathered together a group of schoolchildren in their playground in Nice and filmed them chanting "No More Reality! No More Reality!" The slogan was their own, as was their decision to chant in English. The colour is bleached, the sound poor. It is an old Betacam recording, further degraded through being reshot on the artist's mobile phone. It's like a memory of some bright but distant summer, and the chant itself recalls innocent childish enthusiasm and a kind of impossible idealism. The voices echo through the empty galleries like a kind of empty hope – or a declaration of what one finds in art galleries.

The second film, The Boy from Mars (2003), takes us to a tropical compound under a lowering sky. It is dusk, or dawn, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Water buffalo wander in the half-light. Lights climb the sky as though we were beneath some busy flightpath, and stadium lights flare beyond the trees. An improbable technology is at work in a windswept hangar: an electricity generator powered by the buffalo themselves, hauling at some suspended weights. The power they generate also provided the electricity for Parreno's camera. The lights in the sky form a new constellation. The animals wallow in the pond, unconcerned, leaving squelching footprints in the saturated earth. A bovine eye looms in the lens. You can almost smell these creatures, along with the ozone in the heavy, prickling air. Who, you ask, is the boy from Mars? A witness to a dream? There is no plot. It is all about place, weather, a situation that might be fictive – except it really happened.

The next room shows June 8, 1968 (main picture), in which we are aboard a train carrying the body of Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, who has just been assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, from New York to Washington. Crowds line the track as the train goes slowly by; they seem to be looking directly at us, but we look back, seeing what Kennedy never saw. Yet all is not as it seems: the journey is a re-enactment, restaged in California in 2009, and the crowds are hired extras. Parreno has mounted a camera on the observation car.

Overhead, the sky is an impossible blue. Clouds of pollen blow across the pastureland. We pass girls in summer dresses; an old black woman with a parasol; a couple picnicking in a dappled glade beside the track. Black baseball players stand and look behind chain-link fences, and a boy leans on his bike as we clatter through small towns and under vivid skies. At one point the camera lingers on a girl in a dinghy, rocking on placid, silent water, the blue filling the screen; at another, we pause before a magnificent tree on a grassy Californian hillside. The tree seems like a witness too – but to what? History, perhaps. You want to capture these images and hold them, and look at them again. But they're gone.

When Parreno and Douglas Gordon filmed Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait in 2008, 17 cameras followed the football player throughout the match. In a great catalogue essay, Michael Fried brings together his memory of Kennedy's death, Zidane's absorption in his game and obliviousness to the attention he is getting, and the way the trackside spectators follow our fictive journey on the train through California. He weaves in his own preoccupations about art and film, Diderot and Kant, and what it means to be a spectator and a subject of art. Fried has been writing about such issues for almost a half-century. It is a compelling text.

Parreno's latest work, Invisibleboy (2010), is a portrait of a young illegal alien in New York's Chinatown. Spectral monsters including giant rabbits are scratched directly onto the film stock – the creatures of the child's imagination, hiding in amongst the coats and under the sink, inhabiting the cluttered apartment where he lives and running like quicksilver in the gutters of a Chinatown alley. In Zidane, Parreno and Gordon used Mogwai's post-rock to great effect, and here the soundtrack is by Montreal band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The music (Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls) has great urgency and drive, and somehow manages to be at once paranoiac and elegiac.

The whole of Parreno's show presents itself as a metafiction, and it is impossible not to weave a narrative with its complex images and the world Parreno has created. Something similar happened in Pierre Huyghe's new film, The Host and the Cloud, which closed last weekend at Marian Goodman Gallery in Paris – a short film that arrested me for two whole hours. As it happens, it had a rabbit in it too, though that one was a hi-tech alien avatar. Parreno has collaborated with Huyghe in the past and there remain concordances between their works – not least the question of what is real and what is staged, and how we as spectators negotiate not just their works themselves but also the conditions under which they are shown. It is never just a matter of plonking yourself down and losing yourself. But then it never should be.


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November 15 2010

Timing is everything

From a part-time Christmas tree to the 90-minute portrait of Zinedine Zidane, artist Philippe Parreno tells Stuart Jeffries why he has always got one eye on the clock

'Do you know the average time a visitor spends in front of a work of art in the Louvre?" asks Philippe Parreno over coffee in his Paris studio. "Only three seconds! Crazy when you think about it." Absolutely – that's no way to treat the Mona Lisa or any of the Louvre's 35,000 artworks.

"At the Met in New York it's 10 seconds. I don't know why there's that difference." Maybe it's because the cakes are better in the Louvre cafe. Or perhaps it's because of Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 film Bande à Part, in which three characters try to break the world record for running through the Louvre. It takes them nine minutes 43 seconds, which probably drags down average artwork viewing times.

These are not small matters. Parreno is an artist long preoccupied with manipulating the intensity of the gallery visitor's experience and, more importantly, its duration. While he is best known for the 2006 film Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait, his work often involves using the gallery as the medium for his art.

"I devise my exhibitions like a film," he says. "I think about sequences, about the rhythm of the experience for the visitor. Or like music: my exhibitions often unfold like a musical score. They unfold in time."

Visitors to Parreno's first British solo show, at London's Serpentine gallery later this month, will be subjected to a battery of devices – including remote-controlled blinds and 160 loudspeakers secreted around the museum – designed to seduce, delay, speed up and then expel visitors into Kensington Gardens.

His show will juxtapose intriguingly with two shows across London. At the White Cube, Mason's Yard, is Christian Marclay's 24-hour long video work stitching together snippets from 3,000 films, in which clocks appear or characters refer to time. The artworks in Move: Choreographing You at the Hayward are configured to manipulate visitors' movements around the gallery. Parreno's art has some similar moves, but he isn't just about spatial manipulation. Instead, he tries to temporalise space, while other artists merely occupy it until it's time for their paintings, sculptures or screens to return to storage.

Consider his 2002 Paris exhibition Alien Seasons. This included a film about the giant Pacific cuttlefish that changes its skin colour to hypnotise prey and hide from predators. The fish's changing colours triggered a programmed loop in the exhibition that sequenced music and lighting. In one room, a copy of Robert Rauschenberg's 1951 White Painting was displayed, but after a few minutes, blinds across the windows darkened the space and the painting became the surface for a screening of Parreno's one-minute film The Dream of a Thing, shot near the Arctic Circle. Then the blinds went up and the space was lit for precisely four minutes 33 seconds – alluding to John Cage's silent piece of music 4'33" (itself inspired by Rauschenberg's painting) – before the film started again.

That wasn't all. Then visitors walked through a corridor, passing a cupboard containing the show's technical equipment. Finally, drawn by constantly changing shades of colour, produced by blinds and coloured foil covering the windows, they reached the last space, where Parreno's film Credit was shown.

What was all that about? "I was engaging with Rauschenberg and Cage: how they thought about time. And I was putting a work of art in real time, too. Depending on the light, the viewer's shadow might or might not fall on the Rauschenberg painting, marking the eternal artwork with something temporary.

"But the big thing was to aesthetically shape the experience in time – to draw people through the gallery with effects. It wasn't as complex as what I hope to achieve at the Serpentine, but it gives you an idea."

Parreno, then, isn't so much a creator of art objects as of situations. The artwork, for him, is defined by its context. In this is the ghostly echo of what Marcel Duchamp did in 1917 when he put a urinal in a gallery and thereby made it art. "Art is filled with things that aren't so much objects but quasi-objects," says Parreno. What are they then? "Objects whose existence is dependent on their context."

In Parreno's studio is one of those quasi-objects. It is an aluminium Christmas tree, complete with baubles and fake snow, called For Eleven Months of the Year it's An Artwork and in December it's Christmas (2009). Does this signify, given that it's decorating his studio in late October, that Parreno is living out the dismal dream of Wizzard's song I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day?

"It's an off-duty artwork," says Parreno. "When it goes back into service it'll be what it was before – an artwork that looks like a fetishistic object."

Hopefully, that Christmas tree will make an appearance at his Serpentine show, which runs through the festive season. "I'm not sure I'm bringing it," he says. "But I will have some snow effects. I want to animate the space, fill it with ghosts. I'll have automatic blinds that will rise up as you're walking round and you will say, 'Shit! It's snowing!' but it will only be me releasing some fake snow."

No more reality

What else is he planning? Parreno produces a model of the Serpentine and gives me a walk-through using his pen. In the entrance hall there will be a film called No More Reality!, part of which involves schoolchildren marching and shouting the film's title. Then visitors will be lured around the gallery by those 160 loudspeakers. "I will mix the voices so that they get louder as you get nearer the three films I'll be showing." There will also be speakers dotted around Kensington Gardens that will be broadcast in the gallery. "I'm interested in how sound can drive things. The master will be the sound and the slave will be the image." How long do you expect visitors to stay, given the Louvre's disappointing stats? "I'm aiming at an average of 20 seconds," says Parreno. He is, I suspect, joking.

Among the three films Parreno will show will be one called June 8 1968. This is his seven-minute reimagining of the journey that Bobby Kennedy's coffin took on a train from New York to Washington. That journey was recorded in a picture essay by Paul Fusco, who photographed mourners as the train passed. What inspired you to make it? "Fusco's photos really unsettled me." Why? "It was the point of view of the dead. People are looking at you. And you are dead and invisible to their gaze."

Parreno recreated this film, deliberately shooting in LA and San Francisco, in landscapes that were nothing like those in Fusco's photos, and using actors to play the mourners on the route. "I wanted to recreate not the historical event but that mal etre, the unease you feel on being stared at, the unease one feels in another's naked presence." This film juxtaposes with another in the show called Invisible Boy, about a five-year-old Chinese illegal immigrant who he found in New York living with his grandparents. "I'm best known for my film about Zidane, which showed a super-visible body. After making that it seemed a good idea to make films about someone who doesn't exist, at least not on paper."

Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait remains Parreno's most famous work. In it, he and fellow artist Douglas Gordon trained 17 cameras on the footballer and miked him up for the 90 minutes of a Spanish league match. The results were very different from a post-match analysis on Match of the Day or a Sky Sports' player-cam. Viewers never left Zidane to follow the ball, nor were there wide shots to give his performance context. The crowd's roar was replaced by Zidane's breathing and shouting to his teammates – making the resulting film intimate and likably perverse: it amounted, as one critic put it, to "a concentrated study of real-life absorption under conditions of maximum publicity".

It wasn't a film about a footballer, but the continuation of a historical debate. The 18th-century French philosopher Denis Diderot distinguished between the posed portrait and one in which the subject appeared truly absorbed in what they were doing and oblivious to being beheld. Only the latter, Diderot argued, was truthful.

Parreno and Gordon took the idea of a portrait of someone absorbed in a task to see what it looked like unfolded in time. Diderot, quite possibly, would have admired this feat. How amazing that Zidane, shot from all sides and screamed at by 80,000 fans, demonstrably remained absorbed in his work. How incredible that the artists could, in this 21st-century world of media saturation, depict him, seemingly unposed, calmly going about his business.

Are you mostly a film-maker? "Not really, though I am planning an adaptation of Joris-Karl Huysmans's decadent novel À Rebours. Increasingly, it is sound that interests me." He's currently working with musicians at Paris's Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, in a project he hopes to exhibit in Dublin next year. It involves using a symphony orchestra to create the sound of a human voice. Why? "I like the idea of a ghost speaking, something human coming out of something non-human."

First, Parreno has to inflate some balloons. He has an exhibition looming at Turin's Castello di Rivoli and wants to cover the ceiling with balloons. "The piece will be called From November 5 Until They Fall. The gallery has agreed that they will leave the exhibition open until that happens." But what if they never fall? "Then," says Parreno, the time and motion artist, "the exhibition will never end."


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October 27 2010

Hot property: Klara Lidén

Whether she's breaking out in dance on a train or breaking into a property, the Swedish artist's work is both compelling and anarchic

An androgynous figure moonwalks through Manhattan at night. It's a simple thing, this fleeting performance by artist Klara Lidén; recorded in lo-fi digital video, it only lasts the length of a YouTube clip. Yet as the artist shimmies backwards and the traffic flashes past, her body seems to rub against the city fabric, speaking briefly of strange alternatives to the urban grind.

Impromptu dance is but one aspect of Lidén's work. She has recycled waste packaging into makeshift hideaways, turned old posters into paintings, piling them up in layers like geological strata, along with many other kinds of creative vandalism. Sometimes her exploits are unseen and anonymous, like setting up her own free postal delivery service with a stolen postbox. Occasionally they're bracingly anarchic – as with her one-woman dance show on a commuter train.

In recent years, Lidén's attentions have increasingly focused on art spaces. She's had a string of acclaimed shows, including at New York's MoMA, while for the much-discussed Nordic pavilion at last year's Venice Biennale, assembled by fellow artists Elmgreen & Dragset, she created a fictional teenager's bedroom that offered an unusual form of escape – an emergency axe as well as a hole in the wall.

More generally, though, Lidén's compelling work is covert, containing an illicit, even erotic charge. Take 550 Jamaica Avenue, an early video from 2004, which featured the artist breaking into an abandoned Brooklyn flat, stripping off her top, and playing the piano. And in another work, she dug a kind of refuge on the banks of Berlin's Spree river, accessible via a trapdoor to anyone who wanted to hide.

Why we like her: An installation, punningly entitled Unheimlich Manöver (2007), currently fills the entrance to the Serpentine gallery – a vast blockade assembled from the contents of the artist's flat. If in previous works, Lidén was the intruder, here it's the gallerygoer, forced into a voyeuristic encounter with her personal possessions.

Now you see it: In 2002, when Klara Lidén was a student, she conducted a raid on downtown Stockholm, removing advertising posters from walls and bus shelters, leaving only small stickers, bearing the text U TRY MME (a pun on "space" in Swedish). The next morning this quarter of the city awoke to a white-out.

Where can I see her? Klara Lidén is at the Serpentine gallery, London, until 7 November.


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September 16 2010

Green sound machine

The Organ of Corti – which takes sounds from saturated environments and recycles them using sonic crystals – wins £50,000 prize for most innovative idea for a new musical work

A £50,000 award given to the most innovative idea for a new musical work was tonight given to an arts practice that recycles everyday noise whether it is the repetitive drone of motorway traffic or the tumbling rapids of a weir.

The biennial New Music award is one of the most financially lucrative prizes in the arts calendar – more even than the Turner or Mercury – and is given to what is judged the most groundbreaking concept for a new musical work, whatever the genre.

At a ceremony at the Serpentine gallery pavilion, in London, first prize went to an arts practice called liminal led by composer David Prior and architect Frances Crow, for their entry, The Organ of Corti, named after a part of the inner ear.

In essence, the project sculpts sounds. It uses a portable structure resembling a fairground organ to take sounds from saturated environments and recycle them using sonic crystals. One of the project's aims is to encourage people to listen more carefully and be more aware of the sounds around them.

The judging panel was chaired by the Guardian's chief arts writer Charlotte Higgins. She said the decision had been unanimous after "a long, sometimes difficult, and always stimulating debate". She added: "The judges admired the quiet beauty of the idea of 'recycling' sound in a world saturated by noise and overwhelmed by music. In a world obsessed by glitz and glamour of large-scale, bells-and-whistles events, the thoughtful, discreet and gentle idea of the Organ of Corti utterly caught their imagination."

The prize, established in 2005, is funded and organised by the PRS for Music Foundation which funds music across all genres, supporting everything from unsigned bands to composer residencies.

Sally Taylor, the foundation's chair, said the award was "about looking beyond the obvious and the commercial and envisaging the music of the future. All five ideas on this year's shortlist, which ranged from site-specific sound art to African-inspired human beatbox, captured this spirit of adventure and discovery."

The liminal work will now premiere at the City of London festival in July 2011. It was chosen by a judging panel that also included the artist Martin Creed, the singer and DJ Bishi, the pianist and conductor Joanna MacGregor, the composer and pianist Michael Finnissy and the music journalist Paul Morley.

Details of all the shortlisted ideas are at www.prsformusicfoundation.com/newmusicaward/index.htm


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August 02 2010

Sleep and beauty

An all-night event at the Serpentine gallery, featuring experimental films and performance, proves anything but sleep-inducing

It is 9.45pm and I'm lost. I'm supposed to be heading from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London's museum district to the Serpentine gallery for a night-time event simply called Sleepover, a collaboration between the gallery and the museum focusing on the relationship between insomnia and art. But, on exiting the V&A, I have become detached from the rest of the group. Luckily I'm not completely alone: 24-year-old Becky Shirwan and her friend Mariam are with me. Shirwan got tickets to this event after her friend complained of suffering from a week of insomnia. She hopes this event will provide a cure – or, at least, an interesting distraction.

After a few wrong turns we make it to the gallery pavilion in the dark depths of Hyde Park, the place that will be our bed for the night. The pavilion, designed by architect Jean Nouvel, is a large structure with a sloped wall, bright-red and visible through the trees in Hyde Park even in the dead of night. The event has been partly inspired by Tilda Swinton, who famously slept in the gallery in 1995 for a piece of performance art created by Cornelia Parker. But I'm planning to stay awake: the event features experimental films, musical performances, workshops and food displays, based around the idea of sleep, insomnia, art and dreaming, and brings together a varied bunch of artists. Among other things, I'm looking forward to a musical performance by a group called Sending Letters to the Sea, and a film by artist Emilia Izquierdo, in which snoring blends with images of a body moving in bed.

But first I make a beeline for the hot water dispenser. I'll need tea and coffee to get me through the night. The floor is a sea of sleeping bags. There are more women than men here, mostly in their 20s and 30s. The corner of the room is bustling with activity: a printed book about the night is being made and a cluster of women are sewing the initials of everyone taking part on to pillowcases that also bear the repeated mantra "go to sleep". So far, so not a typical Friday night.

It's 11.30pm. Psychoanalyst Darian Leader, the first speaker, appears. He discusses the surrealist movement, the relationship artists have with dreams and Freud's work on dreams. Once he's finished, there's a loud marching sound, one side of the tent-like pavilion opens up and in walks a procession dressed in white, carrying one of their party on a huge serving plate. This elaborate display is the brainchild of Bompass and Parr, a company that makes artistic culinary delights. Two trifles are laid out, one containing a sedative and the other, a stimulant. I try the sedative option, which tastes deliciously sweet and contains valerian.

After the cacophony, German filmmaker Heinz Emigholz, who has spent over 30 years sketching his dreams, steps up to speak. His sketches appear on the screen behind him, in black and white, often focusing on death – one on the execution of Mussolini, another featuring a coffin. He explains that he finds it easier to draw dreams than write them out. "I did that first sketch in the 1970s, ran out of the house and when I looked at it that night, it was surprising that I had remembered so much," he says. He adds that what started as a hobby, an aside to his filmmaking, has produced 700 sketches.

By 2.30am, only a few people are still up. The free snacks keep me awake for Laure Prouvost, an artist known for playing with sound and language (her film It, Heat, Hit was recently shown at Tate Britain). Prouvost's voice comes out the mic, her accent a mix of French and English. She coos "You want to sleep, don't you?" to the crowd, repeating the words, reminding us of everyone sleeping right now. The repetition has the desired effect of encouraging my eyelids to close briefly. Then suddenly there is a change in tone. Prouvost starts narrating a story about her grandfather, an insomniac, who dug a tunnel from his house in north London (not strictly legal) and has gone missing. Her voice is loud and frightening. Her words are translated into French by someone on stage. The effect is disorientating, but captivating. I catch up with Prouvost after her performance. Does she have trouble sleeping? "I like working into the night, but I sleep very well," she says. "I'm nothing like the romantic idea of the artist as the insomniac. I love sleeping, I love dreaming."

In between performances, there is time for everyone to have a go at being an artist. On a table in the corner of the room are headphones, a recording and piles of blank paper. The aim of this project, created by artist Cesare Pietroiusti, is to draw objects described in the recordings. They happen to be non-existent. The results are wacky interpretations, images that aren't easy to identify: some are buildings, others just wavy lines. Back in the main area, artist Dale Berning treats us to a lullaby, playing the instruments that hang from her clothes. By 4am, there's a lecture by Dr Angelica Ronald on how a lack of sleep affects us. Ironically, perhaps, most of the audience are slumbering blissfully.

By daybreak, people start stirring. I find Shirwan; she has been awake for most of the night, but her friend successfully fell asleep. We sit up watching a beautiful film made by Stuart Croft, featuring a woman in a car at night, telling the story of a man stranded on a desert island. My eyes are burning and I feel like I'm in a daze. The experience has been interesting: it's forced me to think about dreams and introduced me to artists I hadn't encountered. Most of all, though, it's made me grateful that I don't normally have any problems sleeping.


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July 06 2010

Red all over

Jonathan Glancey talks to the French architect Jean Nouvel about his design for this year's Serpentine pavilion



May 22 2010

Ten years of Serpentine's star pavilions

Since the year 2000 London's Serpentine Gallery has been home to a series of temporary architectural creations. The summer pavilions, by the world's most celebrated architects, are a highlight of the UK's cultural year. But which have best stood the test of time?

The annual Serpentine pavilion is a great achievement based on some dodgy ideas – that architecture can be made into a collectible artwork, and that it can work its magic independent of use or purpose. Also that hiring a famous architect is the same thing as achieving a great building. Also that you can build structures at a speed and in a way that makes considered detail almost impossible without the quality of the finished work suffering. The achievement is that it has created a series of intriguing, sometimes beautiful, occasionally dud structures that have livened up our summers. The series has given glimpses of what architects can do with space, structure, material, light and nature, and the human habitation of these things.

The Serpentine pavilion was invented 10 years ago, in the year of millennium fever. It was not funded by the national lottery or the Millennium Commission, and sought to deliver no sonorous messages about modern Britain, but it crystallised the feeling that we were in a new century and that, somehow or other, this should be celebrated with new architecture.

Each year, architects were asked to design and construct, in a breathless six-month period, temporary structures outside the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, and had the freedom to try out ideas that the planners would have ground into dust had they been permanent. The gallery's rules were that the pavilions had to be designed by leading architects who had built nothing in Britain, and those at the spectacular, eye-catching end of the profession were favoured. Grabbing the attention of the media was, after all, one of the objectives.

The pavilions were presented as artworks and put up for sale to collectors with the help of the estate agents Knight Frank. They also drew heavily on sponsorship in kind – building materials and skills given free and expertly marshalled by Peter Rogers, of the property developers Stanhope, who is one of the unsung heroes of the pavilion project. The structures were prodigies of the arts of fundraising and PR. They were unveiled to the world with compendious lists of sponsors' names and logos attached. Long rounds of glamorous parties were held to justify the sponsors' investment. The pavilions flourished at the fertile intersection of art, glamour, corporate sponsorship, iconic architecture, PR and property development. They became part of the summer season, like Henley or Cowes with a radical edge.

Inadvertently, they have become excuses for London's failure to achieve comparable levels of design or imagination in the everyday, permanent spaces of the city. The rise of the Serpentine pavilion accompanied a profligate construction boom, yet the list of the pavilion's designers is also a list of architects not invited, with one or two exceptions, to contribute anything else to London. The success of the pavilions allows the city to look more architecture-loving than it actually is. Clearly, this is not the pavilions' fault.

2000: Zaha Hadid

The first pavilion was created to shelter a fundraising dinner, attended by luminaries including Sting, Steve Martin and the Duke of York, to celebrate the gallery's 30th anniversary. Its aim was to "radically reinvent the accepted idea of a marquee". A folded triangulated structure rose and fell to define different internal spaces and vary the degree of openness. Inside were ranks of angular tables, in shades graded from pale to dark grey.

Hadid was then the world's great unbuilt architect, with few completed buildings but a huge international reputation based on the promise of her extraordinary drawings. The structure was only supposed to last for a week, but the then culture secretary, Chris Smith, liked it so much that he persuaded the planners to let it stand for three months. The pavilion was not one of Hadid's finest works: it was built in a hurry and with difficulty, and it had something of a lashed-together quality. It wasn't as assured as it might have been, but it pioneered an idea – the excitement and interest it aroused got the pavilion concept going.

It was bought by the Royal Shakespeare Company and reassembled in the car park of Stratford's Globe in 2001, after which it was given to a local farmer. One of the angular tables is in my living room: its splayed legs have a habit of tripping people up, which inspires a kind of exasperated affection.

2001: Daniel Liebeskind with Arup

In 2001 Libeskind was famous for his first major international building, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, finished in 1999 when he was aged 53. He was also still hoping to build the Spiral, an extension to London's Victoria and Albert Museum composed of cascading, ceramic-clad planes, which had somewhat miraculously got planning consent from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The extension eventually foundered on funding issues.

Libeskind's pavilion, called "Eighteen Turns", was created with the engineer Cecil Balmond from Arup who collaborated with Anish Kapoor on the gigantic ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture proposed for the 2012 Olympics. The pavilion was an origami-like composition of aluminium panels that folded up and over each other, creating overlapping spaces: some more intimate, enclosed from the park and the elements.

Greenery reflected in the metal, creating a 3D collage of nature and structure. It was less freighted with significance than other projects of Libeskind's, and also more light-hearted and direct in its appeal. Bought by an anonymous buyer, it re-emerged outside Fota House in Cork, as part of its European City of Culture programme in 2005. Not sighted in public since.

2002: Toyo Ito with Arup

Perhaps the most satisfying of Serpentine pavilions, the 2002 building had an intricate and enigmatic steel structure. It was something like a late-Gothic vault gone modern, with an apparently random arrangement of intersecting lines. It had, in fact, an underlying pattern, based on an algorithm of a cube that expanded as it rotated. Panels between the lines were solid, open or glazed, creating the semi-internal, semi-external quality that is common to almost all the pavilions. The building managed to achieve both a powerful presence and, in its white interior, a dazzling brightness. Lime-green chairs by Ross Lovegrove added to its gaiety.

It was designed by Toyo Ito who worked, like Daniel Libeskind, with Cecil Balmond of Arup. Ito had recently completed what is still his most impressive work, a Mediatheque (that is, a library with several kinds of media in it) in the Japanese provincial city of Sendai. Like many pavilion designers, he has not had a sniff of another London project since.

His pavilion, however, has had the most prominent afterlife of any. It was bought by Victor Hwang, then owner of Battersea power station, as a visitor centre for his proposed development there. It is now used for events at his Hôtel Le Beauvallon, overlooking St Tropez in the South of France.

2003: Oscar Niemeyer

The 2003 pavilion came with a great story: the then 95-year-old Brazilian maestro Oscar Niemeyer, who worked with Le Corbusier on Rio's prewar ministry of education, and who created the most dazzling landmarks of Brasilia, would make his London debut. It was like getting Carmen Miranda to turn up and do a gig.

The reality wasn't quite as good as the story. Niemeyer did some sketches in Brazil, which were translated into a building, but it lacked the effortless swoop of his best work. Nor did it quite catch the light-on-its-feet spirit of a temporary structure. It was made of steel and concrete, and had a basement, more like a permanent building that happened to have a short lifespan. Faintly saucy drawings, based on Niemeyer's many decades of fascination with the female form, decorated the walls. But it was still better to have a Niemeyer in Britain than not to have one.

The Niemeyer pavilion, along with the Siza, Koolhaas and Eliasson structures, was bought by a single anonymous buyer for a "considerable sum … many millions", and all four are in storage. The buyer intends that they will one day be seen again in public. He says he does not want them to become "private follies".

2004: MVRDV

In about 2002 the Serpentine's director asked me for my thoughts as to who might design future pavilions. MVRDV, I said. Who are they? she asked. Rising stars of Dutch architecture, I said. We need someone more established, she said. How about Alvaro Siza? I replied. I therefore felt a modest pride when both MVRDV and Siza were successively chosen to design pavilions. MVRDV's, however, was the one that never happened. It was invented at the peak of the great noughties concept boom, when nothing seemed too impossible or outrageous, and the idea was to bury the entire Serpentine Gallery beneath an artificial mountain, up which the public would be able to promenade.

It was an inspired departure from the idea of a more-or-less-pretty object standing on a lawn, but it was extremely challenging in terms of issues such as budget, difficulty of construction, and disabled access. As a result, there was no pavilion in 2004. The Serpentine still hoped to build it in subsequent years but eventually gave up the attempt. Like the gigantic tower that Gordon Selfridge wanted to build on his Oxford Street store, it has joined the ghostly legions of London's great unbuilt.

2005: Alvaro Siza/Eduardo Souto de Moura with Arup

Alvaro Siza, and his ex-pupil Eduardo Souto de Moura, are two Portuguese architects noted for a certain simplicity and lightness of touch. They typically work with plain walls of stone or white plaster, and rely on subtleties of light, space and material. Siza, now in his late 70s, is venerated for his patient, consistent, unflashy work.

Generally the Serpentine Pavilion favours spectacular more than subtle architects, as the 2005 edition confirmed. Siza and de Moura designed a low, humped roof of interlocking laminated timber that "created a dialogue" with the gallery's permanent building.

The roof turned into sloping walls, which stopped a few feet off the ground, like a big skirt. This created a cut-off view of the surroundings from inside the pavilion. It offered a few quietly rewarding moments, but it didn't zing. That it looked like a tortoise didn't help.

2006: Rem Koolhaas with Arup

Rem Koolhaas, always suspicious of architecture for its own sake, intimated scepticism about the pavilion concept, but with his collaborators came up with an instantly appealing monument. His big idea was to create a gas-filled balloon, or "cosmic egg", that would hover above an "amphitheatre". The balloon echoed the inflatable structures beloved of radical 1960s architects. It was designed to rise in good weather, opening up the amphitheatre to fresh air and views of the sky, and descend again to keep out rain.

It proved a cumbersome way to manage the environment, although there was something hallucinatory about the appearance of this luminous orb, like a grounded moon, in the park. The balloon was more a sign of spontaneity than the reality. But more than any other pavilion, it became a place of public exchange thanks to the events devised by Koolhaas and Serpentine co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist. The most memorable were the 24-hour interview marathons, in which, for example, you could hear Gilbert and George discourse at 6am. Koolhaas's practice OMA has had more success in London than most pavilion designers. Its Rothschild Bank HQ is going up in the City, and he masterplanned the proposed conversion of the Commonwealth Institute to rehouse the Design Museum.

2007: Olafur Eliasson/Kjetil Thorsen

The Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson was billed as the lead designer of the 2007 pavilion, assisted by Kjetil Thorsen, of the Norwegian architects Snøhetta. This didn't quite hit the right note, as the whole point of the pavilion until then had been that it was the work of architects in the grounds of an art gallery.

It also didn't help that Eliasson had created a smash hit in London's other series of high-impact temporary structures, the Unilever commissions at Tate Modern. His Weather Project of 2003, with its artificial sun and reflecting ceiling, had thousands lying on the ground as if in a hippy sci-fi movie.

Eliasson's Serpentine pavilion was tamer. It was a timber-clad spiral that allowed you to go to the top, look at the view, and go down again, while experiencing some quite nice bits of design on the way. The Snøhetta/Eliasson collaboration produced the much more powerful National Opera House in Oslo – the roof of which acts as an artificial hillside in the middle of the city. Their Serpentine pavilion was perfectly nice, but one of the least memorable in the series.

2008: Frank Gehry

Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Düsseldorf, Prague, Dundee and Bilbao all have permanent buildings by Frank Gehry but somehow London, with its prodigious appetite for construction never got round to it. As he is now past 80, the 2008 Serpentine Pavilion is likely to be the great Canadian-born Californian's first and last appearance in the capital.

The commission gave him the chance to return to the direct style of his earlier career, before the Bilbao Guggenheim made him into a specialist of elaborately curving glossiness. He also saw it as a chance to give experience to younger people in his office, including his son Samuel. Made of chunky pieces of timber, it comprised a "street" running axially towards the gallery, sheltered by flying planes of wood and glass. Banks of seats on either side also gave it the quality of an amphitheatre.

"It had to be wood – I'm Canadian, right?" was how Gehry described it. "And then we were thinking of those old catapults. This is Britain, and the Romans invaded you. I came up with the idea of a four-poster structure with a big pillar in each corner and it looked OK, but it needed to be a little more festive. Then Sam made a model with butterflies flying through it, and that turned into the glass roof."

Like most of the pavilions it was sold to a private and anonymous buyer.

2009: Sanaa

By 2009, it began to feel as if the Serpentine Pavilion idea might be running out of puff, but the Japanese architects Sanaa came up with one of the most delightful, as well as the most delicate yet. Sanaa's two protagonists, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, designed a thin, freeform aluminium roof which, as they put it, drifted "like smoke" between the trees. It had no walls, but was supported on skinny poles. It reflected sky and grass and when it rained its mirrored soffit made it look as if rain was falling upwards. It "expanded park and sky," as they also put it, and "melted into its surroundings".

Architects talk like this quite often but on this occasion the building did what they said.

The Serpentine Pavilion has always had a close relationship with the Pritzker prize, the award that is the Nobel Prize for architecture in all but name. Eight pavilion designers have the prize, including the architect of the forthcoming 2010 pavilion, Jean Nouvel. This year Sejima and Nishizawa joined the Pritzker gang. The private buyer of the pavilion, again, remains anonymous.

2010: Jean Nouvel (pictured top)

The 2010 pavilion will be in a vivid red, intended to contrast with the green of the park, and evoke London buses, post boxes and phone boxes. It will also, according to the Serpentine, be "a contrast of lightweight materials and dramatic, metal, cantilevered structures". It will have "bold geometric forms, large retractable awnings" and a 12m-high, sloping wall rising above the lawn. Table tennis will be added to the pavilion's usual programme of talks and cafe and there will be a "Marathon of Maps for the 21st Century", in which "artists, writers, thinkers and scientists will present maps encompassing their experience of the world today".

The architect is the Parisian Jean Nouvel, who first came to widespread fame with his Institut du Monde Arabe in 1987. There, he charmed people with a wall of steel shutters, inspired by the traditional perforated screens of Cairo, that opened and closed like the aperture of a camera. Generally, his work combines a sensuousness of surface, a touch of showmanship and outbreaks of harshness. He has no house style, using different techniques on different projects. His work includes the forbidding, black law courts in Nantes and the Fondation Cartier in Paris, where layers of glass generate a field of reflections. He designed a luxury hotel in Bordeaux wrapped in rusty metal screens and the Torre Agbar in Barcelona. The latter is like London's Gherkin in form, but has a more intriguing wrapping of layered and coloured glass. Like the Gherkin, it is more interesting for its effect on the skyline than for the abrupt way it descends on the streets. Nouvel is now working on an outpost of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, where he has designed a huge, shallow dome like an inverted saucer that is perforated to create dappled patterns of light.


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March 30 2010

Sanaa rising

From Tokyo to Hyde Park, Jonathan Glancey looks back at the daring designs of this year's Pritzker prize-winners



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