Park Life


Left: Tracey Emin and friend. Right: The Serpentine Gallery's Summer Pavilion. (Photos: Nick Harvey)

During my harrowing mini-cab journey from Shoreditch to Hyde Park, the meteorological prospects for the Serpentine Summer Party did not look good. A long overdue week of glorious weather had succumbed to fitful rain, and my overblown visions of sartorial extravagance, radical architecture, and green urban meadows were quickly giving way to damp disappointment. The taxi made its way gradually, detained slightly by the hordes scurrying off to a Babyshambles and Kasabian gig elsewhere in the park. The clouds lifted just as I noticed a large “Make Poverty History” banner for the Live 8 concert that would take place nearby two days later.

At the Serpentine, at least, it was easy to get the impression that poverty already was history. As soon as I had surfed my way through the first ten feet of impossibly expensive frocks and faux-bronze shoulder blades, a shocking blitz of flashbulbs indicated some fresh prey for the abundant paparazzi. In the afterglow emerged Kid Rock and his entourage.

My eyesight somewhat the worse for wear, I stumbled towards this summer’s Serpentine pavilion, a luminous curving timber and polycarbonate shell designed by Portuguese pals Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura, in collaboration with Cecil Balmond, Arup’s engineer wunderkind. Siza has described the temporary structure as “an animal whose legs are firmly attached to the ground, but whose body is tense from hunger with an arched back and a taut skin.” As I watched the beautiful and the Botoxed pounce on champagne and intermittent canapés, I began to see what he meant. While a brief appearance by the sun segued into a sunset worthy of Constable, small points of light appeared on the exterior of the pavilion’s gridlike cladding thanks to solar-powered lamps installed in each panel. The effect was not unlike an undulating airport runway at night, but perhaps the jet-set nature of my immediate companions was getting the better of my imagination.

After retiring my umbrella to a safe corner, I bumped into a lederhosen-clad Wolfgang Tillmans, who was slightly spellbound by the high-wattage arrivals near the official entrance to the party. Recognizing a fellow magpie, I inquired if Tillmans had brought a camera, but he replied, “Let’s just stand and watch,” which we did, until it was time to wander off to claim our first glasses of champagne.

Left: Paris Hilton. Middle: Serpentine Gallery Director Julia Peyton-Jones. Right: Ruby Stewart, Kimberly Stewart, Penny Lancaster, Rod Stewart, and Sean Stewart.

Having compared notes with seersucker-suited Sadie Coles, Jurgen Teller, and Sarah Lucas, we concluded that we (i.e. the art world) were definitely outnumbered. I decided to avoid a low blood sugar moment and went off in search of food. While I nibbled away on a small bowl of seaweed, Nick Relph, Oliver Payne, and Herald Street proprietors Nicky Verber and Ash L’Ange provided a pleasant alternative to the polo set. As Gavin Brown emerged from the crowd, I thought I should probably head into the gallery to see Rikrit Tiravanija’s “Rikritrospective.”

The final incarnation of Tiravanija’s conceptual retrospective—after stints in Paris and Rotterdam—the show seems appropriate for the Serpentine space, originally built in 1934 as a tea pavilion. Sandwiched between twin re-creations of Tiravanija’s New York apartment, the core of the show is a broadcasting studio run by Resonance 104.4fm that transmits a radio play written by Elizabeth Linden and Matt Sheridan Smith, adapted from a treatment by the artist. During the party, guests were invited to muse into the microphone about the possibility of time travel. Artist Ellen Cantor quipped, “Of course it’s possible, I do it all the time,” but restauranteur Rose Gray (of River Café) offered an alternative point of view: “Don’t be daft, I always live in the present.” When the DJ explained that Tiravanija was hoping to stage a kind of soap opera, the Royal Academy’s Norman Rosenthal seemed slightly confused, muttering, “Yes, I love opera. And I like soap.” He then launched into an enthusiastic elucidation of opéra comique.

Wandering by one of the kitchens, there was nary a curry to be found, but I noticed through the window that two women had smuggled in a magnum of champagne, lending a gilded note to the plywood surroundings. Even the most jaded relational aesthete could not help but thrill slightly at what happened next. In a flurry of pale yellow chiffon, Paris Hilton made her entrance into the kitchen, completely annihilating any previous notion I had of “social sculpture.” Her arrival initiated a celebrity avalanche, and the likes of Farrah Fawcett, Mariah Carey, and a smattering of rock stars—including David Gilmour and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Alex James of Blur, and Rod Stewart—punctuated the rest of my evening.

With music on my mind, I headed for the new pavilion, where arms were flailing and Jimmy Choo heels were breaking on the dance floor. From outside, with steam on the translucent panels beautifully refracting the light, the structure had taken on the air of a psychedelic Pentecostal rally. But paganism and aristotrash prevailed, and everyone danced in earnest under the building’s sensual curves until the DJ closed the evening with Howard Jones’s 1980s anthem “Things Can Only Get Better.” And so we wandered off to the Groucho Club to see if it was true.