The Serpentine Galleries present two exhibitions this winter, with Reiner Ruthenbeck at the Serpentine Gallery, and Julio Le Parc at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery – Argentinian-born artist Julio Le Parc is known for creating works that transform space through light. The artist’s work often involves installations and interactive works featuring the Le Parc trademark of the dynamic use of light, from the early 1960s to the present day. The artist’s playful and mesmerising exhibition transforms the Gallery through the kinetic manipulation of light through various sculptural devises. Last year Le Parc held a major exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, breaking attendance records.
The artist began to make geometrical abstract paintings in 1959 based on pre-determined systems, first in black and white, and later in colour. Then in the early 1960s Le Parc began working in three dimensions, incorporating moving, projected and reflected light. From 1964 onwards the artist began producing works based on distorting mirrors and the displacement of the spectator by means of labyrinths and play rooms.
Le Parc is known for creating works of art in constant flux – and this exhibition is no exception – at the heart of this show is a desire to experiment with our engagement and perception through the sculptural and kinetic manipulation of light, refracting off mirrors and moving components, twisting and stretching patterns across individual installations throughout the Serpentine Sackler’s gallery spaces.
The art wishes to alter our perspective on the roles of the artist, spectator and the institution. The gallery states that through his experimentation with light, Le Parc creates a situation of visual instability, in the work and in the viewer’s experience. It all sounds very exciting; but the issue is one of ‘experiment’. Any artist creating this particular type of light installation faces the danger of comparison with lesser forms of ‘entertainment’ post anything from the Victorian hall of mirrors onwards – without a necessary conceptual context the language of the work can be without form; seemingly rendering it ‘amusement’ – this is the danger of Le Parc’s experiments, especially in a contemporary context.
The exhibition seems evidential of the Serpentine’s particular taste in artist’s who have explored the use of light in installations; with this exhibition bringing to mind the recent show of Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans’ illuminated works. An exhibition described at the time by the artist as “responding to the spaces which examine the transformative ‘Site/Sight/Cite’ effects that light, sound and duration can have on both spaces and their occupants.” This exhibition reminded the viewer that with light pieces the works on display can be intriguing, even mesmeric on occasion; but can leave the one with the overall feeling that technology seems to have overridden the art. I wanted to like it, but I couldn’t.
The trouble with new technology is that it is soon out of date; just as its entertainment factor withers and dies from our ever-shortening attention span – the Serpentine invited children to the press view of this show – but instead of becoming exited by the dazzling kinetic reflections, they seemed a tad benumbed by the affair.
In one part of the exhibition the viewer is met with an installation of hanging punchbags, each emblazoned with a hate-figure. The viewer – or child invited to the press view – can punch these hateful figures of authority in an act of quasi-release and fairground entertainment, just like in the good old days – but for the children it was all a far cry from ‘Call of Duty’.
Although there is something intriguing about the artist’s robust retro kinetics, with Le Parc’s Serpentine exhibition, the viewer is left with a ‘visual arts amusement arcade’; lights twist and turn, pop, race up and down, and go ‘zing’. There may be pleasures to be had from this – but it is all very ephemeral, both literally and in its depth as art. As with Cerith Wyn Evans’ previous Serpentine exhibition; I wanted to like it, but I left with the feeling of a small child disappointed with the candy-floss.
Read the review of Reiner Ruthenbeck at The Serpentine Gallery here
Reiner Ruthenbeck, The Serpentine Gallery – Julio Le Parc Serpentine Sackler Gallery – until 15 February 2015
Words: Paul Black Photo: Serpentine Sackler Gallery © Artlyst 2014 all rights reserved