Punch A Journalist And Step Into The Darkness At The Serpentine Galleries

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 35 months ago
Punch A Journalist And Step Into The Darkness At The Serpentine Galleries ★★★☆☆ 3

The Serpentine has two new exhibitions at its two lakeside galleries, featuring the playful kinetic art of Julio le Parc and the subtle conceptual works of Reiner Ruthenbeck — two very different artists.

Punching bags with pictures of an artist, a mayor, a father and a... baby can be beaten up by visitors. © READS 2014

Julio le Parc - Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Julie le Parc has populated the Serpentine Sackler building with both his light and his kinetic artworks, essentially creating his own funfair. There are rotating, vibrating mirrors, and loud machines that send plastic balls flying in all directions. There's also an uneven floor to walk across, and springy chairs that feel like they may give way under your weight at any moment.

It's all in keeping with le Parc's ambition of making art accessible to all ages — fun and interactive is the name of the game. Even political messages in the artist's work take place in a 'games room': visitors knock punch bags out of the way to enter, but will they avoid hitting the young father with baby? And are they more likely to attack the mayor, the intellectual or the police officer?

There are games of darts, and you can try your luck at knocking down silhouettes by hurling balls at them. When we were there, it was interesting to observe people were aiming at the Pope, Uncle Sam and the military general, but tended to avoid the mother and child, and the rock star.

There is some weight to the argument that the humour of these works detracts from the gravity of the politics, but we actually found that it makes it more engaging. Art can be fun as well as having a deeper message, and we think le Parc has struck this balance effectively.

Reiner Ruthenbeck is most famous for his cones of ash that interact with other materials to create subtle sculptures. © READS 2014

Reiner Ruthenbeck - Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

Reiner Ruthenbeck's work is very different from le Parc's, as it relies on subtlety to explore how materials affect the space around them. These works are less accessible but there is a great self-referential aspect to a bunch of spotlights shining upon a black square, resembling that painted by Malevich, and there's surrealism in another work where two ladders are impossibly intertwined.

One of Ruthenbeck's strongest works is a set of furniture pieces toppled over. It's amazing how a simple gesture brings thoughts of domestic unrest to mind. We also liked the fact that you can see under the chairs and their inner workings of springs are on display — it's revealing what has been designed to be hidden, though it's a shame we weren't allowed to get closer.

Our favourite work is a darkroom lit only with a five-watt bulb: such a weak output becomes so potent when all other distractions are removed. The installation references religion, leadership and life and death with one simple gesture. Ruthenbeck's work here is undoubtedly patchy, but there are powerful pieces within this show.

Reiner Ruthenbeck is on at Serpentine Gallery and Julio le Parc at Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Kensington Gardens. Both exhibitions run until 15 February 2015. Entrance to both is free. While at Serpentine Sackler, keep an out for the colourful fountain made by Bertrand Lavier from dozens of hoses in the gardens.

Last Updated 26 November 2014