The Serpentine Gallery first opened its doors to the public in 1970.
That summer, visitors flocked to the defunct 1930s tearoom in Kensington Gardens to pore over a ground-breaking collection by recent graduates from art colleges across the country. Since then, this lustrously located exhibition space has played host to some of the world's most celebrated – and attention-grabbing – contemporary artworks. Be it Cornelia Parker's 1995 installation The Maybe – in which the Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton was suspended in a glass box, four feet above ground level, apparently asleep – or In the Darkest House There May Be Light, a collection of works from artists including Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol, brought together by the show's curator, Damien Hirst.
In recent years, the Serpentine has attempted to broaden its remit – going to great efforts to introduce architecture and design to its programme. The first major step in this direction came in 2000, with the launch of the Pavilion Commission. An annual architectural show, this project, held in the grounds of the main gallery, kicked off with an imposing open-air construction from Zaha Hadid. For a few days, nearly 10 years ago, this deliberately temporary edifice stood side-by-side with the main building – and every year since, other architects, high-profile and otherwise, have invented their own eye-catching pavilions, the most recent of which was a huge, partially aluminium construct resembling a meandering pool of water running through the park gardens, masterminded by the Japanese partners Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.
While notions of design have crept into the gallery's schedule through the Pavilion programme, this weekend marks another landmark for the gallery, which is fast approaching its 40th anniversary, as it launches its first-ever exhibition solely dedicated to modern design.
Design Real is curated by the lauded German industrial designer Konstantin Gcric. Speaking from his studio in Munich, Gcric explains the concept behind this notable event. "This exhibition talks about the meaning of industrial design today," the 44-year-old begins. "It is an investigation into how industrial products fit in our complex material world, and the effect these products, individually or as part of a wider framework, have on our daily lives.
"Almost all of the 43 items I have chosen were first produced in the last decade, and every single one of them is in production today," Gcric continues. "Some of them are familiar; they are things that we come into contact with in our daily lives. Others have a far more remote connection with our lives – we rarely see them up close and may not even know that they exist." With this in mind, the items in Gcric's collection range from instantly recognisable bits of Ikea furniture to ambiguous-looking computerised gadgets.
As well as technological and aesthetic value, Gcric celebrates simplicity of form, and the economical, social and environmental credentials of each object. Many of those taking pride of place in his collection, such as the aluminium aircraft shipping container, combine all of the above. "This object," Gcric says, "is rarely given much consideration, yet it is integral to the business of import and export, and has a significant impact on the global economy." These structures are designed to be durable enough to withstand constant movement, but light and compact enough not to consume additional fuel or space. They are also made to be easily recycled, which, Gcric says, raises possibilities about the future of industrial design. "This is what excites me," he concludes. "Simple forms with complexity behind them. That is what truly great design is all about." Design Real runs until 7 February at the Serpentine Gallery, London W2. The exhibition will be open until 8.30pm on 3 December with a 20 per cent discount on selected Serpentine Gallery limited-editions.
See serpentinegallery.org for details