a confession

Last week I went along to the opening of the new Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the Serpentine.

German-born artist Tillmans is probably best-known for his seemingly casual, yet sensitive and challenging photographs of people, landscapes and still-lifes; though more recently he has turned to exploring abstraction. This new exhibition at the Serpentine is a retrospective of his 20-year career, situating his colourful abstracts and experimental works alongside figurative pieces in a series of site-specific installations that explore and play with the techniques of exhibition installation themselves. Describing his approach to installation, Tillmans has commented that he aims to create “constellations of pictures”: “I try to approximate the way I see the world, not in a linear order, but as a multitude of parallel experiences. Multiple singularities, simultaneously accessible as they share the same space or room.”

Normally I’d now regale you with some (probably quite facile) thoughts and reflections about the exhibition and the works on display, but on this occasion, I just can’t do that. Instead, I have a confession to make. Yes, I went to the private view – but I didn’t actually look at any of the work.

This is partly because it took me rather a long time to get to the opening (for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to walk from Leicester Square to Hyde Park, which turns out to be a surprisingly long way) and so I arrived towards the end of the event. I bumped into some friends, and promptly sat down on the grass in the sun to have a drink and a chat. Before I knew it, the opening was finished, and the gallery was closing, without me even having set foot in the exhibition itself.

Some of my companions expressed amusement, surprise and indeed disapproval that I had come to the opening and not managed to look at so much as a single artwork; but I’d be willing to bet that every one of them has, at some point in the past, done exactly the same thing. Perhaps I’m letting a closely-guarded art world secret out here , but that’s the thing about openings – they aren’t really for looking at art. For drinking wine, showing off your directional footwear, playing i-spy people in black-framed glasses, talking about art– yes, absolutely. But it’s impossible to really see an exhibition at a private view. There’s always far too many people crowding around to get a proper look at anything, for a start, and all that kooky headwear has a tendency to block your view. In my experience, if you really want to get a proper look at an exhibition, you need to go back and see it another time, which is what I’ll have to do with the Tillmans. Charles Darwent writing in the Telegraph, reckons it’s “an excellent show, one of the best this summer” so I reckon it’s probably well worth a return visit.

I’ll let you know what I think then, but in the meantime all I can report is that Hyde Park is a lovely place to sit and drink a glass of chilled white wine on a summer evening. And on a slightly more cultural note, I did also get to take a peep at the new (and extremely red) Serpentine Gallery Pavillion by Jean Nouvel, which opens on 10 July.

Wolfgang Tillmans is showing at the Serpentine until 19 September 2010.

[Image: Wolfgang Tillmans, Wald (Briol I), 2008, via Serpentine]