The art of travel

Simon Calder discovers the aesthetics of tourism at a new exhibition at London's Hayward Gallery

To see the world, make your way to Waterloo Bridge in London. The primary double-decker of the bus network in the capital - Route 1 - will take you there. Through the big picture windows on the top deck, the journey unfolds frame by frame. The north side of the bridge emerges from the architectural splendour of Somerset House (which, incidentally, hosts the modest but marvellous Courtauld Gallery). It is the finest river crossing in the capital, and ranks with the Brooklyn Bridge in New York as the optimum viewpoint for a world city; to the east, the hemispheric glory of St Paul's amid the corrugated horizon of the City, to the west the institutions of power in Westminster.

Once you've reached the South Bank, these aesthetic splendours degenerate into a muddle of concrete. But for the next two months, a new exhibition will transport you away from the clutter more rapidly than the No 1 bus. And two of the leading exhibits are free and outdoors.

Were you on that bus last night, you might have made a double take about which city you were in. Emblazoned upon the usually blank exterior of the National Theatre is a series of images of New York City. Taken in their entirety, they redefine tedium; but in moderation they thrill. Every frame from Andy Warhol's plotless, characterless empire is projected upon this ungainly screen, a transfer of Manhattan.

The film was created using a single camera with a fixed subject: New York's Empire State Building. The only variable is time. The full movie runs for eight pointless hours. But a minute's glimpse of Warhol's take on Manhattan will enthral the bus passenger for each of October's four remaining Friday evenings.

In the future, everywhere may be famous for 15 minutes. For the next two months, though, celebrated locations from Clacton to Las Vegas are laid out for your examination inside the Hayward Gallery - which also wears one work of art on the outside. Look to the western shoulder of the bridge. A vast ink-jet poster has been slapped on the side of the Hayward Gallery. It shows a figure standing in a small motorboat, afloat on crystalline water. This is not, though, a snapshot from a perfect holiday; the focus is an uncomfortable-looking donkey. Such is the suffering that must be endured for the benefit of art, and the artist (Paola Pivi). Now it's your turn. The image diverts you from the more familiar touristic icons such as the London Eye and Big Ben. And that is the point of Universal Experience: Art, Life and the Tourist's Eye - to deflect you from the rest of the world.

''People can see Florence and Venice in books, without the queues,'' says the man keen to enhance your experience and reduce your travel: Francesco Bonami. "Instead of going there they should come to see this show.''

Bonami is curator of Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, where this exhibition was conceived. He was born half a century ago in Florence, and has spent the past 20 years living in the US. Where he worries about the world: both the people and what they see in it.

"When you go and see the Mona Lisa,'' asks Bonami, "are you going to see a painting or a tourist attraction?'' He points out that when Leonardo's masterpiece was stolen, people queued to see the blank patch of wall in the Louvre from where it went missing. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but tourists apparently adore a void, which is perhaps why we find the sight of the World Trade Center so magnetic. "People go to Ground Zero to see nothing," he says.

To help us tourists focus on something, Bonami has curated an exhibition that is simultaneously familiar and foreign, rather like the destinations that many of us seek. As you walk into the Hayward Gallery, a carpet in easyJet orange draws your eye skyward. This untitled work by Rudolf Stingel sets the tone for a journey through the bewildering world of travel.

Fifty artists have given their interpretations of tourism. Many exhibits confirm the need for the tourist not merely to visit a place, but to have photographic proof of having done so - epitomised by German Indian: Chief, by Andrea Robbins and Max Becher. Alongside the stills of iconic locations are some startling moving images, including Olivo Barbieri's helicopter film of Rome where parts of the picture have been de-focused to give an impression of the camera skimming across a scale model rather than the real thing. And up on the wall there's the Pope, or at a least a souvenir picture of the Holy Father - simultaneously the ultimate incarnation of the tourist, and a tourist attraction himself.

At the other end of the travel spectrum are the images of poor Americans taken by the Danish photographer Jacob Holdt, who sold his own blood to finance a trip across the US. The images of destitution and despair are given new resonance by the floods in Louisiana. And when New Orleans comes back to life, no doubt the city will have acquired an added allure. Tourists crave history as a framework with which to interpret what they are seeing - and hearing.

Sound, including a work by Tacita Dean, intrudes as you wander through the gallery. "It would be unrealistic to have an exhibition about tourism in silence,'' says Bonami, "because silence doesn't exist any more in tourism.'' But you may be glad to learn that the smells of travel are not included. "I think people can bring their own.''

For some fresh air, nip out to the sculpture garden, and visit Zhan Wang's Urban Landscape: a model of central London made from stainless-steel kitchen utensils and draped in a fog of dry ice.

The most substantial installation is also the most disturbing. The Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn created Chalet Lost History as a response to the pillaging of Baghdad in the wake of the Iraq war. The work includes hard-core pornography, not an element of the average tourist's experience. Its inclusion, says the curator, is to make the visitor reflect on the darker side of tourism, such as the prevalence of sex tourism to countries like Cuba and Thailand. "It's part of our contemporary society that we tend to forget.'' Universal Experience is as flighty as its subject matter. The exhibition began in Chicago in the spring, visits London this autumn and will seek invigoration in the Italian Tirol early next year.

The perfect coalescence of art and tourism can be found, I reckon, between piers E and F at the world's most artistic airport: Amsterdam Schiphol. Here, the transience of travel, experience and art is manifest. Not only can you view the complex choreography of aviation, there is also a handy annexe of the Rijksmuseum in the transit lounge. Why bother exploring Amsterdam itself, when you can taste some morsels of fine art between flights - and buy the postcards to prove it?

"The point of the exhibition is that we are all tourists,'' says Bonami. "We can't experience the world with no prior knowledge.'' The solution, says the curator of Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, is "contemporary art, the last place where you can be an explorer. You are in new territory that will stimulate your mind.'' Either that or you can take bus No 1, which in its scarlet, double-decked glory is itself something of a work of art, and a touristic icon.

Universal Experience: Art, Life and the Tourist's Eye is at the Hayward Gallery (020-7921 0813; www.hayward.org.uk) until 11 December 2005; 10am-6pm Sat-Mon, until 8pm Tues & Wed, until 9pm Fri; admission £9

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders