Fearing last weekend’s sit-out-on-the grass-glorious autumn weather to be the last before London’s long and gloomy descent into winter, I spent Saturday and Sunday taking in the art on offer in the capital’s Royal Parks. To coincide with the closing weekend of Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s hortus conclusus-inspired summer pavilion, the Serpentine Gallery (Hyde Park) had programmed a two-day “Garden Marathon” event featuring talks and performances by an impressive multi-disciplinary roll-call, including theorist Helene Cixous, musician Brian Eno and mathematician Marcus de Sautoy.
Zumthor’s pavilion itself, black-clad and angular alongside the restrained neo-classicism of the gallery building had a singularly austere elegance. Passing through the darkness of the exterior passages, visitors emerged in a courtyard garden bathed in autumn sunlight. Whilst most of the central floral bed had bloomed earlier in the season, it was the pavilion’s structural elements that remained visually absorbing. Looking upwards, the brutal symmetry and absolute black of the matt walls formed a bold frame for the blue sky overhead. Paths were split cleanly into areas of light and shade. The medieval hortus conclusus, or closed garden (examples of which can still be seen in surviving monastic cloisters) was said to emphasise the relationship between earth and sky by this paradoxical severing. It was a place for withdrawal and contemplation: of the Edenic and the divine. Creating a space at once open and communal and intensely isolated, Zumthor’s pavilion, with its shady recesses, demands lingering and prompts observations of a more secular nature, on the incessant and ever modulating passage from light to dark, visibility to invisibility.
Across town, a pleasant Sunday afternoon was whiled away avoiding the Frieze queues (and £27 entrance fee) in the adjacent, sculpture-filled segment of Regent’s Park. The works, by artists including Kiki Smith, Tom Friedman and Gavin Turk ranged from the simple and melancholic (Gimhongsok’s dog-eared, paper-bag star) to the tawdry (Johan Creten’s dramatically phallic Banc des Amoureux). The highlight: Turk’s surreal Ajar – a realisation of a favourite Magritte painting and, like Zumthor’s pavilion and the monastic hortus conclusus that inspired it, a gentle yet persistent interrogation of the meanings of “inside” and “outside”.
THE GARDEN MARATHON was held at the Serpentine Gallery, Hyde Park on the 15th and 16th October.
PETER ZUMTHOR is a Swiss architect and winner of the 2009 Pritzker prize. The Serpentine Pavillion was his first completed building in the UK and included a specially created garden by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf.
FRIEZE ART FAIR was held in Regent’s Park between the 13th and 16th October.