Save The Arts: Stars come out for Serpentine relaunch

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STARS attending one of the glitziest nights of the year in the visual arts were told of the importance of the Independent's Save The Arts campaign yesterday.

The re-opening of the renovated Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London, was attended by celebrities ranging from European royalty (the crown princes of Greece and Yugoslavia) to style queens Paloma Picasso, Mary Quant and Zandra Rhodes to comedians Harry Enfield and Jennifer Saunders and rock star Bryan Ferry.

The Serpentine has always been one of the most fashionable as well as one of the most radical of art galleries. Its patrons numbered Diana, Princess of Wales. And its radical nature was highlighted in its reopening exhibition by the Italian artist, the late Piero Manzoni, who offerings included cans of his own excrement and lumps of cotton.

But a focus of last night was our campaign for the Chancellor to grant tax relief on all contributions to the arts.

In a speech before welcoming her guests, Julia Peyton-Jones, director of the Serpentine, said: "I am delighted that we have been successful in raising the money we needed. But I also want to support the Independent campaign. Any help that we or organisations like us can have to raise money for the arts is absolutely critical."

The gallery has had a pounds 4m facelift, with National Lottery money paying for three quarters of the work. Ironically, the former tea rooms still lack anywhere for visitors to have a cup of tea or any other refreshments, but Lord Palumbo, chairman of the gallery said this would be rectified in the future.

He added: "There is a wonderful paradox about this building - to find a tea room in a royal park and to turn it into a gallery for contemporary art at the cutting edge is a very curious juxtaposition.

Architect John Miller said it had been difficult to preserve the character of the building but also incorporate new features, including an education studio. "It was a battle we had. It was often quite vigorous," he said.

Among Manzoni's works on show were mounted tufts of cotton and a collection of eggs with the artist's thumbprint upon them, and a series of straight lines which he printed on paper then rolled up and sealed in tubes with labels detailing the exact length of each line. Germano Celant, curator of contemporary art at New York's Guggenheim Museum, chose the pieces which have been included at the gallery.

He said Manzoni formed part of a trinity of artists who depict the body whose work can be seen in London at the moment, along with painter Francis Bacon and the fashion designer Alexander McQueen.