Again and Again

Nicolas Trembley on Sturtevant and the Serpentine Summer Party

Left: Sturtevant, Serpentine Gallery codirector Hans Ulrich Obrist, Loren Muzzey, and artist Gustav Metzger. Right: L’Wren Scott, Mick Jagger, and Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones. (Photos: Dave Benett)

THE FACT THAT THE ART WORLD does not have the same criteria for assessment as the rest of the world was brought home to me recently while in a taxi with Sturtevant—indisputably one of the most influential artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, maybe ever. When we left the Serpentine Gallery Summer Party in London, there were hundreds of fans gathered in Kensington Gardens and paparazzi cameras flashing madly. They were not cheering “my star,” though, but top models (Naomi, Kate, Karen, and Eva) and actors from Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey, stars from another galaxy who were visiting the kingdom of contemporary art that evening.

The Serpentine Summer Party is one of the top London charity events. It is often cohosted by figures from the fashion world, and this time L’Wren Scott (along with Tim Jeffries) took on the task. The event occurs in the gallery’s garden and pavilion (designed this year by architect Sou Fujimoto), and it attracts many celebrities who come not only to be seen but also to help fund the gallery (ticket prices start at around $580). The event is as important as Wimbledon, which happens the same week, and it attracted more people than the Masterpiece Fair private view at the Royal Hospital of Chelsea, which took place the same evening.

Left: Models Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. (Photo: Dave Benett) Right: Dealer Gavin Brown (right). (Photo: Nicolas Trembley)

Sipping watermelon cocktails, clad in designer labels, and fighting to make it into the photos, the guests included Daphne Guinness and James Franco, as well as Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Ewan McGregor, Sir Paul Smith, and the entire Jagger family (Bianca, Mick, Georgia, Amba, Jade, etc.). Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones was dressed in L’Wren Scott, and her codirector, Hans Ulrich Obrist, in Brioni, while his partner, artist Koo Jeong A, wore a Lanvin outfit that she had to return after the event. Sturtevant wore Sturtevant. In the garden were our celebrities, artists like Gustav Metzger, Ryan Gander, and Marc Camille Chaimowicz, rubbing shoulders with the immortal Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, and the Chapman Brothers. Inside the gallery, Bobbi Brown offered partygoers hair and makeup in a miniboutique. Music was provided by Jake Bugg and 2ManyDJs, and the afterparty took place, as tradition dictates, at the Groucho club. This was not the only Sturtevantesque déjà vu moment of the evening, though: Someone discovered that a young model was wearing the same outfit as Naomi Campbell, whose agent then begged the girl to go and change. A real parable for the issues of authenticity, authorship, originality, and representation that lie at the heart of Sturtevant’s work. I couldn’t help but think of the piece she showed during the 2008 Manifesto Marathon at this very venue, which claimed: “Stupidity is our new chic.”

The private view of the show, titled “Leaps, Jumps and Bumps”—our artist’s first exhibition in a British institution—took place two days later at the same venue. That event was unfortunately much calmer, even though the artist and the curators consider it one of the best projects of her career and one of the greatest experiences of their lives. In any case, no prominent figures from the art-buying world went to that viewing, and the latest sales in contemporary art took place just a few stones’ throw away at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips. In fact, one of Sturtevant’s most famous works, a repetition of the legendary Warhol Flowers, had been sold at Christie’s London.

Left: Sharjah Art Foundation president Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Hikari Yokoyama, artist Damien Hirst, dealer Jay Jopling, and musician Antony Genn. (Photo: Dave Benett)

The exhibition deploys the artist’s famous technique of repetition in full force. One of the works, Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (America), echoes an installation of lightbulbs by Felix Gonzalez-Torres installed at the Serpentine in his solo show there in 2000. The walls are covered in wallpaper that contains an image of an owl whose eyes return the viewers’ stares. The endlessly repeated motif is borrowed from Sturtevant’s renowned video installation Elastic Tango—shown at the 2011 Venice Biennale—which recycles images found on the Internet. Elastic Tango is also deconstructed via autonomous video projections that sample extracts of the video’s content. Hans Ulrich Obrist remarked that the exhibition is a “work in progress,” and that the artist adds new semantic layers to it every day. “She conceives shows like a Gesamtkunstwerk, a holistic installation,” he said. “And she energizes the space, creating different tonalities and tensions.”

In the middle of the gallery, Dillinger Running Series, a much-discussed video referencing Joseph Beuys, plays in a loop, as does the video Finite Infinite, which shows a Labrador running in a circle in a park. This work, which was on view at the Punta della Dogana in Venice two years ago, has an in situ effect in this English garden. In the gallery’s other wing, a group of sex dolls (which belong to the Moderna Museet) are installed in the windows, where they appear to be enjoying the view. Kathryn Rattee, the exhibition’s cocurator, wondered how long it will be before the rookie visitors walking in the park complain that the work is too “shocking.” “Leaps, Jumps and Bumps” does not include any “historical” works, only works from the twenty-first century, proof that Sturtevant is really and truly at the top of her game. “When I met Sturtevant twenty-five years ago, she told me about cybernetics,” Obrist said. “So I went to visit the pioneer, Heiz von Foerster, who explained the complex dynamic systems with feedback loops and nonlinear circuits. Sturtevant’s show is like that!”

Left: MoMA curator Stuart Comer. Right: Artist Mariko Mori and collector Richard Chang. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)

Dinner was simpler. It took place in the Pompadour room of the new Café Royal hotel, Regents Street, which has been renovated by David Chipperfield. The Sienna marble tearoom is splendid, and the Gugelhupfe are exhibited in the window as if they were works of art. Several of Sturtevant’s collectors made the journey: Julia Stoschek, who only collects video; Nicoletta Fiorucci; Eric and Suzanne Syz from Geneva; and Richard Chang. A number of art-institution heavyweights attended as well, among them Chris Dercon, Udo Kittelmann, Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi of the Sharjah Biennial, Musée d’Art Moderne director Fabrice Hergott, Stuart Comer of Tate Modern and now MoMA, and new Museo Madre di Napoli director Andrea Viliani, who is organizing a Sturtevant exhibition next year to be curated by Stéphanie Moisdon. Also present were her dealers: Thaddaeus Ropac, Gavin Brown, and Anthony Reynolds, as well as several international artists like Adrián Villar Rojas, Mark Leckey, and Mariko Mori.

One toast followed another, and Sturtevant, in her characteristically generous style, warmly thanked all those who have supported her for so long, especially her daughter and collaborator Loren Muzzey. In top form, Loren took the night owls to the Gore Hotel for a last glass of champagne. I, alas, was not among them. Now, of course, we’re all ready for Sturtevant’s Next Big Step: return to New York, and a survey at MoMA.

Left: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. (Photo: Dave Benett) Right: Musée d’Art Moderne director Fabrice Hergott. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley)

Left: Artist Adrián Villar Rojas. Right: Curator Stéphanie Moisdon with Andrea Viliani, director of the Museo Madre di Napoli. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)

Left: Dealer Tamara Corm and collector Nicoletta Fiorucci. Right: Whitechapel Gallery director Magnus af Petersens. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)

Left: Jade Jagger and Georgia May Jagger. (Photo: Dave Benett) Right: Jonathan Wingfield, Brioni creative director Brendan Mullane, and Nicole Briata. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley)

Left: Collectors Suzanne Syz and Eric Syz. Right: Darren Flook and Mark Sladen. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)

Left: Writers Zadie Smith and Nick Laird. (Photo: Dave Benett) Right: James Franco, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Sturtevant. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley)