I’ve got (another) confession to make……no, no don’t worry, I am not about to burst into song, much as I love Dave Grohl. But it is a serious confession. I have never been to the Serpentine Pavilion before. Pause. I hear the gasps of shock, of incredulity. Yes, I know it seems so “my kind of thing,” but there it is. Never made it before. In my own small defense, this time of year, when the new Pavilion is unveiled, is the busiest, and I mean really, really, really busy, time of year for any SW London mother of school age children. Christmastime is dull in comparison. End of term, end of school, new school, summer birthdays, celebrations, showcases of talent, just one last party, just one more last party….oh and the summer fetes, maybe a street party or two, toss in some badly timed visitors….it is a nonstop carousel of child-based, though sometimes only tangentially, activities. It is enough to make even the hardiest of us weep with exhaustion.. I am forever murmuring Velvet Underground “I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for a thousand years….”. But this year I showed up, mainly because I got invited to the preview, and I love exclusivity. So off, on a gorgeous, balmy, London summer evening, I went.
What is the Serpentine Pavilion, I hear you ask? Well, it is privilege, an honour, bestowed on an international architect whose work has yet to be built in the UK. The annual commission began in 2000 with Zaha Hadid, who, as we all know, went onto architectural superstardom and died, suddenly, last year. A temporary “pavilion,” in whatever form the artist sees fit, is constructed on the Serpentine Gallery lawn and stays for the summer months. Free to the public, visitors are welcome to explore, photograph or just enjoy the structure. It is an opportunity for the Serpentine to showcase talent people here might otherwise not experience. And of course, it is an excellent excuse for an outdoor cocktail party in the still shiny light of late June London.
These year’s commission was given to Diébédo Francis Kéré, now living in Berlin, but originally from Burkina Faso. His structure is reminiscent of the tree that served as the central meeting point in his home town, a gathering place for the community. A place to rest or chat or just hang out. And that is exactly what he has built. Made of wood, obviously, it’s a tree, with blue, triangular panels, patterned to the touch, like a bark. A roof that stretches out like leaf laden, shade giving branches. Inside is a warm, cozy atmosphere, rather like a sophisticated fort made in the woods. But with benches and a bar. And a great little wooden slide. In the center is what can be a waterfall, when it rains. But rain isn’t something we have had in quite a while here in blazing hot London, so the well was definitely dry on opening night.
Art previews are always a fabulous people watching opportunity, the outfits, the ages, the sheer exuberance of life, all the more so when the architect himself is present. “Oh, I would like to meet him,” I told some in-the-know gentlemen. “But of course,” and that is how I came to have a little cuddle and a picture. He was completely charming, and when the Artistic Director of the Serpentine tried to drag him away to meet more worthy patrons, he said “not yet, I am having my picture taken.” So Mr. Hans-Ulrich Obrist and another guest had no choice but to hop into our photo as well.
A beautiful pavilion, an utterly divine architect and a gorgeous summer night…why haven’t I been doing this for years?