Forever and a Day


Left: Artist Wolfgang Tillmans with Tate Modern curator Stuart Comer. (Photo: Vogue Italia) Right: Artist Yinka Shonibare. (Except where noted, all photos Lynne Gentle)

WITHIN THE RANK CONFINES of a 36 “bendy” bus on Thursday evening, I made my way to South London Gallery’s exhibition and gala to celebrate the completion of its recent building project. As I pondered just how Britain’s boring new “age of austerity” might manifest itself in the art world, my dirty red chariot lurched to a stop outside the gallery, whereupon depressing notions of an economy drive evaporated with the vision of the gossamer mighty Aphrodite Gonou and cute Kenny Goss, better half of George Michael and one half of the Goss-Michael Foundation.

Inside, the building was humming with superlatives: “A triumph!” “Spectacular!” “A masterpiece!” Detecting the whiff of hyperbole, I went sniffing around for cracks and found . . . none.

Unpretentious and egalitarian (neighborhood squeakers are positively encouraged), SLG is a great space to visit, and even more so now that 6a architect Tom Emerson, with a cool $3 million to play with, has given it the star treatment. With a new bar and café, more gallery spaces, an Outset-funded artist’s flat (kitted out deluxe with a wet room, mod kitchen, and a perfectly made bed), and the Fox Garden donated by Gerry Fox, I wanted to move in.

Director Margot Heller explained that the accompanying group show’s title, “Nothing Is Forever,” was an “unconscious conceptual link” to 2007’s “Stay Forever and Ever and Ever.” All the works are applied directly onto the walls and are destined to dissolve into the fabric of the building when they are painted over at the end of the show. The aim was “seamless integration” between art and architecture, a concept the artists approached with wit and sensitivity. With the succinctly titled Wall, Yinka Shonibare sheathed the end of an ugly nearby apartment block in colorful PVC, while Fiona Banner’s arresting hand-scrawled Black Hawk Down dominated the walls of one corner of the main gallery. Many of the twenty participating artists were in evidence for the celebration, including Shonibare, Mark Titchner, Paul Morrison, Gary Woodley, Sam Porritt, Dustin Ericksen, and Lily van der Stokker. And as the midsummer sun set over Peckham, those that hadn’t left by the prescribed hour looked set to settle in for cocoa. Good thing there was a bed . . .

Left: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine co-director of exhibitions and projects, with dealer Andrea Rosen. Right: Margot Heller, director of the South London Gallery.

You know you’re in trouble when your tools pack up before you even get to the job. When I arrived at the Serpentine the following evening, my camera was on the fritz and my new pen produced no more than a dent on the page. Wielding my backup toolkit of iPhone and eyeliner pencil, I noticed security eyeing me suspiciously. I gathered my dignity, scribbled something bogus down in Lancôme “Smoky Amethyst,” and pushed past.

The glam jam at the door suggested that the new Wolfgang Tillmans show was a big hit. In typical Tillmans (and Serpentine) fashion, the exhibition is wonderfully hung, building a gestalt from hundreds of photographs, personal detritus, and assorted ephemera. Absorbed by one black-and-white photograph of what appeared to be two hairy arms conjoined by an unidentified blob, several minutes of aimless gawping revealed a flasher-style photo of hairy legs and four testicles dangling beneath a skirt. Red-faced I backed away to allow others the experience.

Outside I bumped into dealer Nicholas Logsdail looking like a member of the croquet association. Upon being prodded for an update on future plans at his Lamu artist’s residence–cum–winter escape, Logsdail sniffed, “I don’t like the word residence.” What would you call it then? “I haven’t thought of the word yet.” Supercool Rodney Graham, in town for his new show at Lisson Gallery, nodded and made listening noises while trying to catch the eye of his date (if-they-aren’t-they-should-be) artist Shannon Oksanen.

Left: Artist Jeremy Deller. Right: Dealer Nicholas Logsdail and architect Tom Emerson.

Diving into a cab, I sped over to the Tab Centre in Shoreditch for a dinner for Tillmans hosted by Maureen Paley. Pre-dinner libations helped oil conversation in the garden where I unoriginally observed that it really is true: The gayer the affair, the more groomed and glittering the guests. Thank God, twice, for Lancôme.

After being herded to our tables like unruly prefects, we were served a starter of . . . beetroot? Mains arrived in the form of whole grilled fishes: heads, gills, et al. Tate Modern’s Stuart Comer looked one in the dead eye and wondered: “Where’s Jesus?” As guests were in charge of dissecting dinner themselves, Hotel Gallery’s Darren Flook stepped up to the, erm . . . plate, and made quick work of skin and bones, chatting about the magnanimous, inclusive nature of the art world. “Anywhere that will let this boy from nowhere in is . . . ” Delicious.

Man of the hour Tillmans, flanked by proud parents, was suddenly clambering up onto his chair to the thunder of ecstatic applause. His contagious ovenlike grin threatened to split his face as he addressed ardent fans and supporters, all beaming like they’d given birth to him themselves. I couldn’t hear everything he said but it didn’t matter. He could have recited the ingredients on a saltbox and received a standing ovation. After thanking the Serpentine’s Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist and his dealers Paley and Andrea Rosen, he turned to acknowledge the love and support of his partner, Anders Clausen. The crowd roared. He then invited everyone to have a “little boogie” with him later. Knowing with absolute certainty that I couldn’t compete on the dance floor with the fabulous and unfeasibly energetic Tillmans posse, I hailed a taxi and boogied off to bed.

Lynne Gentle

Left: Curator Elizabeth Neilson and artist Mark Titchner. Right: Collector Kenny Goff.