London’s green & verdant Hyde Park - what better place to be on a balmy June evening? The rather chic crowd, milling outside the Serpentine Gallery is brazen testament to director Julia Peyton-Jones drive, energy and extraordinary networking prowess. The annual temporary pavilion is now a cultural landmark and talking point by any measure, while the Serpentine Summer Party is now a Society and Season landmark – considered - in certain circles - as right up there, alongside Ascot, Wimbledon and Henley Royal Regatta. And yet, and yet..…I can’t help wondering whether somehow the art itself is getting increasingly sidelined, as the Gallery itself and its profile goes from strength to strength?
I was so depressed by the last Serpentine exhibition – a collection of dismal and utterly distinction free abstract paintings by Viennese feminist artist Maria Lassnig (b.1919) that I was unable to even contemplate writing about it. It seems that the latest show has also split the critics. “Continuation” is hailed as the first major British public exhibition of the work of American appropriation master Richard Prince (b.1949). The show was chosen and curated by Prince himself, who has somehow squeezed London in, neatly between last year’s “Spiritual America” retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York and another solo show, entitled “Four Blue Cowboys” which opened (in the same week as "Continuation") at Gagosian’s newish Rome headquarters.
My heart sank as I entered the gallery’s sunny white rooms on “Special Private View” night, to read that the show was: “presented by the Serpentine Gallery in collaboration with Louis Vuitton”. Prince is one of the latest artists to design a line of new handbags for the luxury brand. The work itself, both older and more familiar pieces - such as the cannibalized Marlboro Man above: “Untitled (cowboy)" (1989) - and the newer “Nurse” series, left me personally rather cold but the show has been reviewed rather more comprehensively by, among others, Joanna Pitman in the Times – you can read her intelligent and measured conclusions by following this link.
In the Sunday Times, her colleague Waldemar Januszczak took a rather more benign view:
Elsewhere, in the Guardian, writer and broadcaster "Bidisha" vented some moral outrage in a blog post which attracted so many controversial comments that the thread was finally closed down by the free speech monitors of Farringdon Road.
The Richard Prince retrospective continues until 7th September. In the meantime, I do look forward to the opening next week of the latest Pavilion, the first built work in this country by pioneering American architect Frank Gehry, working for the first time in collaboration with his son, Sam. When last glimpsed, half finished outside the Prince show, it looked utterly intriguing. Watch this space for a considered opinion on the finished construction.