The Hayward Gallery has quite quickly settled into the habit of putting on a blockbuster show each summer, kicked off by Antony Gormley's Blind Light show in 2007. The gallery entices visitors, like a fun palace, inviting them to "Sail on a Boat!" "Bounce up and down!" in the name of art and pleasure. However, among the crowd pleasers, so to speak, there are often some great and very enjoyable artworks, and The New Décor and Ernesto Neto's current exhibition are a continuation of this mixed tradition.
The New Décor, a large sculpture exhibition featuring 36 different artists from 22 different countries who work with interior spaces and furnishings, wants to do a lot of things. It wants to take on design while rejecting the concept of "design art". It wants to show artists working with the history of furnishings from Cuba and Colombia, rather than only those artists who have an all-too-chic interest in European and American Modernism.
Sculptures that appeal to familiar supports for human body – chairs, kitchens, beds – can act as a shortcut for artists to work their way into the subconscious, to get into your head and under the bed. The American sculptor Robert Gober, who made subtly political gestures using the aesthetics of the home throughout the 1990s, is contemporary forerunner to this approach, and it's a shame to see him absent here. His influence is all over Elmgreen and Dragset's contributions to The New Décor, which include a permanent addition to the men's bathroom, Marriage (2010), in which two sink pipes fuse and twist together, instead of going into the floor to drain efficiently. The duo's Powerless Structures, broken clocks and doors that go nowhere, ridicule authority and bureaucracy with theatrical humour and serious undertones.
It's theatricality, if anything, which is the central theme of this exhibition. Tatiana Trouvé's supremely eerie installation of Formica and wires looks at first to be a kitchen space, but is actually furnished with burnt-out ignition switches and mirrors, as though it were a hellish room so white as to be flammable and dangerous. For every brilliant piece of work in this show, however, there's another that just simply isn't. There's far too much here of the Viennese collective Gelatin. Their tables and chairs made from old junky pieces of other tables and chairs have a charm to them, but not much more than that. There are about three different exhibition ideas here, all jostling and competing against one another, though the highlights, of which I would also include the works of Thea Djordjadze, Doris Salcedo, and Rosemarie Trockel, carry it through.
In the upper galleries, Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto has created a soft maze of gauze and wooden jigsaw pieces and inserted pockets of camomile and lavender to soothe any anxiety you might have felt in the galleries below. This is the same thing that Neto has been doing for years, and in the past his sculptures, often droopy, drippy, hanging gauzes, heavy with scent, have a real resonance to them. Not so much here though. Take your shoes off and pad through the soft colourful space, "Bounce up and down!", "Bang a Drum in a Red, Heart-Shaped Cave!", "Swim in an Outdoor PADDLING POOL!" You get the picture. It's a nice, sensuous experience. Nothing much more than that.
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