Anthony McCall at the Serpentine Gallery

10 Feb

I used to put the Serpentine as probably the second most important publicly funded gallery in London (to me as a contemporary artist), with a diverse range of temporary exhibitions by major artists known and being introduced to us perhaps for the first time.  Sadly the recent exhibition of Anthony McCall’s films come light sculptures is the worst curated or designed exhibition I think I have ever attended. I first saw one of his pieces at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) whilst travelling last summer and they had the film installed so that you entered (and exited) right beside the screen, I suppose you would call it, with the light filling the entire, dark room from the projector located against the far wall.  It really made you feel it was an interactive sculpture you can touch and become part of.

 At the Serpentine they totally destroyed the engagement with the work by making a route around behind the projectors so the English audience can conscientiously walk around the work and not disturb it.  Furthermore they put signs directing the audience around this route with lights that brightened the space.  Perhaps what most offended me though was that not nearly enough haze was used to fill the spaces and the projections pretty much lost their sculptural form.

 I paid a second visit on the last day of the exhibition to confirm my disgust and found the projection in the central room was had broken or perhaps they’d run out of haze liquid to run that one, but someone had turned the gallery lights (arranged in a circle on the ceiling) on dimly, presumably for health and safety whilst going across to the next room.  I had to laugh out loud.  About a couple of dozen people were sat in there on the floor, enjoying the work like the responses to Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.  Whilst perhaps there was an art to this installation, revealing the lighting inherent in the gallery space alike my own work observing light permeating the blackout blinds in the project space at college, I am pretty sure it wasn’t intended to be an artwork and certainly wasn’t made by McCall.
A further whinge is that they totally failed to describe what was happening in the still photographic prints of ‘Long Film for Ambient Light’ (1975) in both the label and catalogue.  It looks to me like we are just looking at a projector in a room that shows the daylight coming in the windows during the day and is dark at night.  In fact, there was no film as such, this is a much more conceptual piece covering the windows with white paper to become light sources during the day and reflective projection screens at night, with the addition of a light bulb hung in the centre of the room at eye level, constantly lit throughout the work.


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