After laughing my butt off at Jerry Springer: The Opera, I slept for 12 solid hours. In addition to the usual tourist activities, the following day I made a visit to the Serpentine Gallery nestled in the heart of Kensington Gardens. The current exhibit was a gallery-wide installation/transformation (image shown above) by artist, Monika Sosnowska. The gallery's Web site states the following about the installation:
Using the exhibition space of the Serpentine as the starting point for her work, Monika Sosnowska has been commissioned to design an installation that will dramatically transform the configuration of the galleries. It is comprised of a series of irregularly shaped chambers and interconnecting passages based on geometric forms and shifts of scale. Sosnowska's labyrinthine environment will engage and confound visitors and alter perceptions of the Serpentine.
Visitors will enter into the existing architecture of the Gallery, after which they will encounter a passageway into her installation and the abstract spaces beyond. Sosnowska conceives the work as a series of spaces through which visitors are channelled.
Sosnowska was born in Ryki, Poland in 1972, and her work is frequently reminiscent of eastern European public buildings. In this case, the monochrome walls, floor and ceiling and the non-traditional architectural configuration of the installation recall the uniform, low-cost décor and structures often found in Polish architecture of the 1970s and 80s.
This will be the first exhibition of Sosnowska's work in a public gallery in the United Kingdom. Previously her installations have been presented in a number of international exhibitions including the Venice Biennial and the Istanbul Biennial in 2003, and Manifesta 4, Frankfurt, in 2002.
First, some disclaimers. I know nothing about Sosnowska's work. I've never been to Poland. The only eastern European country I have visited is the Czech Republic for only three days. What follows is my knee-jerk reaction to the show.
Now, let me just say that this exhibition disappointed me immensely. I have read some really fantastic things about the Serpentine Gallery so I had extremely lofty expectations. These were not met... it wasn't even close. To start, the installation felt like a funhouse maze. I not once questioned architecture. I not once felt "confounded" or as if my perceptions had been altered.
The piece consisted of puke-yellowish brown painted walls and floors. I freely admit that any significance this color held was beyond me and I only imagined that it must have been on sale at the local paint store as a mis-tint. Given that I would walk through room after room of structures painted this God-awful color, I wished that the artist had chosen a more pleasing color - anything to make my experience more pleasant.
Sosnowska installed room after room of odd-shaped chambers. At times you had to hunch down to get through doors, at others you had fairly wide open spaces to meander. You walk through passageways trying to figure out how to get out. Eventually, you cover the entire installation and you're done, as if on a 60 second rollercoaster for those afraid of heights. I found myself rushing through the installation hoping that different art was on the other end. I wanted to be rewarded for my efforts but alas, there was no reward. At one point, I found a gallery assistant sitting inside the funhouse and I asked her, "Is this it?" She glanced up, got a sheepish look on her face and just said, "Yeah."
Oh well, so I walked for over an hour searching out the Serpentine Gallery only to be completely disappointed. It happens. Given that Sosnowska has participated in the Venice Biennial, et al, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt that I'm missing the significance of her work. I just don't think transforming a space with some altered walls and floors means very much. Fortunately for me, my next art trip would be to Tate Modern and all things would be good again!
(The picture above is taken from an elevated position that viewers could not reach. It gives a much more exciting sense of the space. The picture does show a door and a couple of the spaces you walk around in. Has anyone seen this exhibition? Were you confounded? Or did you basically just walk straight through the piece and say, "What's next?")