Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture, Hayward Gallery, London

Some party! There were boats on the roof...As it turns 40, the Hayward entertains with an exhibition that lets the artists out to play in the space they inhabit

In May 2000, the Austrian art collective Gelitin lifted the window out of the wall of their studio, pushed a wooden balcony through the resultant hole and stood on it, waving, to be photographed. So far, so conceptually unchallenging, except for the studio's location: the 91st floor of the World Trade Center's north tower. (Photos of the incident, if it really happened – Gelitin are great pranksters – were taken from a helicopter.) A year later, the first jet hit the tower just at the point where the foursome had stood. Which makes you wonder what the Hayward Gallery can have been thinking of when it invited Gelitin to build a boating pond on its roof.

If Gelitin's commission signals a death wish on the Hayward's part, then it is hardly to be wondered at. Until the 1960s, the relationship of gallery to artist was, loosely, that of master to servant. Institutions bought art and then did what they wanted with it. In about 1960, though, all this changed. Artists, increasingly bolshie, began to chafe at the gallery's tyranny, and to find strategies for undermining it. Some made work from materials – dust, poo, rotting meat – that were impossible to conserve; others made sculpture on so vast scale a that no gallery could hold it. Even painters kicked over the traces. In 1965, Ed Ruscha made a picture called The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, a piece of wishful thinking whose subject is just what it says it is. (Ruscha's painting does not, as you'd guess, hang in the Los Angeles County Museum.)

So the subtitle to the Hayward's 40th anniversary show – Artists Take on Architecture – sounds worryingly belligerent. You'd expect disrespect, and you'd be right: many of the artists in Psycho Buildings have used the gallery's architecture against it, like curatorial jujitsu. Gelitin's pond, Normally, Proceeding and Unrestricted With Without Title, is merely the most obvious example, playing on the idea of the modern art museum as a funfair for the masses. But, as with most of the work in this show, Normally ... is also oddly good-natured. Strike out from its pontoon in one of the wooden tubs provided and the South Bank is suddenly a different place, seen, physically and emotionally, through the eyes of a child. The piece is the inverse of Gelitin's World Trade Center balcony, the collective's genius lying in shifting our points of view.

In the épater le Hayward category also comes Atelier Bow-Wow's Life Tunnel, a Constructivist-looking sculpture tucked into the back corner of one of the downstairs galleries. The Japanese group's offering feels like a piece of Judd-like abstraction until you get up close, at which point it becomes clear that you are looking into a galleristic worm-hole. The parallel universe into which ABW's tunnel delivers you is simply the Hayward's next level up, but the means by which you get there – crouching down and clambering along – destroys any sense of the modern art gallery as a place of conceptual stillness and hush. (A warning to the childphobic: avoid Psycho Buildings during weekends and school holidays. The place is like an adventure playground.)

Broadly, I'd say that it is works such as these – the ones that respond to the Hayward's own architecture by cocking snooks at it – that are the most engaging in this show. Do Ho Suh's spectral rooms are as wonderful as ever – his red gauze re-creation of the staircase of his New York apartment block makes you want to weep – and Mike Nelson's reprised To the Memory of HP Lovecraft fills the Hayward's upper floor with the kind of ghosts you would definitely not want to meet on a dark night. But the story of this show is really the story of rebellion; and the clearer the artist/gallery tussle is spelled out, the more vivid the work becomes.

Given the history of the past 40 years, it seems big-hearted of the Hayward to have set itself up for a pratfall in this way. Actually, the joke is on the artists. The gallery's design, all sliding walls and anonymous spaces, long ago acknowledged their victory. How do you fight something that won't fight back? If Psycho Buildings had been held at Tate Britain, we might have seen fireworks. As it is, most of the artists seem to have ended up loving the gallery, as indeed they should. Happy birthday, dear Hayward, and many more.

'Psycho Buildings', Hayward Gallery (0871 663 2500) to 25 Aug

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'