Toast Masters

London
07.10.06

Left: Artist Anish Kapoor and architect David Adjaye. Right: Hans-Ulrich Obrist with foreign policy advisor Mark Leonard and Rem Koolhaas. (Photos: Sarah Thornton, unless otherwise noted)


A perennial problem besetting architecture: One man’s innovative construction is another’s massive toaster. As the crowds gathered at the Serpentine Gallery Thursday night to celebrate the opening of the new temporary pavilion, this year designed by Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond with a team of engineers from Arup, one could only marvel at the wildly disparate opinions it elicited. Koolhaas and Balmond have devised a translucent ovoid canopy that bulges over the curtain wall sheltering the café and auditorium, and while some talked of hot air balloons soaring over summer skies, others talked of golf balls and fungi, and one newspaper critic told me it was like a space station but also like a supermarket and concluded, “You see, you just can’t see up the sphincter of the thing, and that’s no good!”

One of the ideas behind the pavilion is that it should offer an opportunity to architects who have never worked in Britain before, and admirers were particularly eager to make obeisance to Koolhaas’s debut. Early arrivals included architect David Adjaye, artist Anish Kapoor, and Ralph Rugoff, the new Director of the Hayward Gallery, and when they had doffed their caps, they were replaced by a steady stream of stuttering student devotees. Koolhaas’s arrival also saw Hans-Ulrich Obrist in irrepressible spirits; the two seem to have bonded like soul mates, and they spent the first hour bent over notes with strangely trendy foreign-policy guru Mark Leonard. This might have had something to do with plans for their twenty-four-hour interview marathon at the end of the month, when Obrist and Koolhaas will jointly chew the ears off three dozen contemporary worthies, but they might as easily be planning a breakaway republic. Later, Obrist spoke in Koolhaasian style about “the impossibility of the possible and the possibility of the impossible.” I nodded, smiled, and then made fast for the bar.

Left: Hans-Ulrich Obrist with Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones. Right: Critic Richard Cork, curator Pierre Coinde, and artist Michael Craig-Martin. (Photos: Morgan Falconer)


Being a fine night on the tail end of a heat wave, Londoners just kept coming, particularly as there were reports that the air-conditioning had petered out across town at the opening of “Dark Matter,” the Malevich-inspired group show at White Cube. “I felt like one of the insects on Damien Hirst’s dead-fly paintings,” panted one critic. Pierre Coinde, from the roving curatorial project the Centre of Attention, was cool no matter the temperature beneath an extraordinary hat, a spaghetti tangle of black lines of fabric.

Eventually the masses took their leave but, for the elect, things were about to get going in Chelsea at the startling quarters of Lord and Lady Rogers. Outside, their house is typical of the larger Georgian buildings in the area, but inside the noted architect has gutted it and erected thin, vertiginous steel stairways reaching up to broad balconies. It’s toweringly magnificent, with a bathroom that is high comedy: A bright pink cubicle contains a yellow rubber sink with a tap halfway up the wall, such that it takes acrobatics to wash one’s hands. Guests, meanwhile, also needed nimble moves to eat rare beef while not leaning on the Philip Guston paintings and the Warhol Mao portraits. It was made no easier by the fact that the invite list had swelled far beyond capacity, leaving everyone from designer Ron Arad and architect Zaha Hadid to the venerable historian Eric Hobsbawm to get more intimate than they might have desired. The Serpentine’s director, Julia Peyton-Jones, thrives on this kind of thing, and despite trying to convince me that she suffers stage fright before speaking to such throngs, she managed to toast and thank absolutely everyone and the plumber. Something had to go wrong with all this clamor, and eventually someone slipped and rendered an enormous chocolate cake seriously structurally unsound. It was of no consequence however, as that too was later demolished.

Left: Haunch of Venison's Calum Sutton with Modern Painters editor at large Karen Wright. Right: Dealer Alison Jacques with artist Mark Flores.


Left: Collector Judith Greer. Right: Tate curator of film and events Stuart Comer with filmmaker William E. Jones.


Left: Artist Xiaolu Wang with Red Mansion Foundation director Nicolette Kwok. Right: Cognitive scientist Caroline Ingvar with Art Basel VIP Coordinator Isabela Mora.