Former gunpowder hall becomes impressive new Sackler Gallery at London's Serpentine

By Ben Miller | 07 October 2013

Review: Serpentine Sackler Gallery; Adrian Villar Rojas; Marisa Merz (exhibitions until November 10 2013), Serpentine Gallery, London

A photo of a large stone gallery lit up at night
© Luke Hayes
Beyond Kensington Gardens, across bridges and through ornate gates, the Serpentine's Sackler site, built at a cost of £14.5 million, has been keenly anticipated.

Damien Hirst wanted to use this old gunpowder depot to display his collections, but Zaha Hadid's design has prevailed, creating a curvelinear tent of a restaurant next to The Magazine, which has had its traditional partitions removed without losing any of its atmospheric splendour.

The building's Napoleonic beginnings were repeated until as recently as 1963, when the space was still being put to military use. Now its brick walls and front colonnade are the imposing features of a magnificent gallery, helped by some clever opening additions by Adrian Villar Rojas, a young Argentinian artist with a reputation for large-scale sculptures and, evidently, a bright understanding of what might work inside an echoey former munition hall.

Bricks creak and rattle beneath visitors' feet and, at the entrance, a three-ton elephant - or, more accurately, an elephant's bottom - arches from the rubble, head buried in the earth.

One of the inner chambers is crammed wall-to-wall with pottery carvings running the length of shelves, teeming with references ranging from pop art and classicism to environmental decay and taxidermy.

So a bust with a face circled by plastic bags might be followed, depending on where your eyes wander, by an iPod, or a plant resting on a fish's back.

Back at the original Serpentine, Marisa Merz, the only female involved in the influential Arte Povera movement of mid-20th century Italy, is the force behind an equally bold solo exhibition.

Born in 1926, Merz was part of a group who would fashion wonderfully odd, often faintly political sculptures out of non-traditional, found materials.

Here, cranial gravy pigments are perched on tripods, and a wraith, painted pink, is mounted against silver piping and a square of industrial metal.

Great big shards of aluminium hang like lengths of silvery meat in a butcher's, and a miniature world of tiny, toadstoolish rocks populate a flat tray of waxy paraffin.

A poetry fan, Marz sees words and rhythm in discarded fragments, giving a glowing, ghostly energy to her salvaged inanimate objects.

  • Open 10am-6pm. Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @serpentineUK.

More pictures:

A photo of a gallery with a curvy white roof on parkland
© Luke Hayes
A photo of a large stone gallery on parkland
© The Royal Parks / Serpentine Gallery. Photo: John Offenbach
A photo of a gallery with a curvy white roof lit up within parkland at night
© Luke Hayes
What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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