Shelf Life; EXHIBITIONS; the Serpentine Opens Complementary Shows at Its Two Sites Tomorrowthat Look at How We Display Our Meaningful Objects and How It's an Art in Itself

Article excerpt

Byline: ROBERT BEVAN

MARTIN GAMPER: DESIGN IS

A STATE OF MIND

Serpentine's Sackler Gallery, W2

HAIM STEINBACH: ONCE

AGAIN THE WORLD IS FLAT

Serpentine Gallery, W2

WITH the Serpentine now having two galleries in Kensington Gardens-- its old home and the new Zaha Hadidreshaped powder magazine nearby -- it is able to hold exhibitions that are in dialogue with each other. Two new shows that investigate how furniture and objects frame our lives make the most explicit link yet between the two spaces.

London-based Italian designer Martino Gamper made a name for himself with his 2007 exhibition 100 chairs in 100 days, for which he created hybrid furniture out of other people's discarded seating. He relishes bringing unrelated objects together like a DJ's mash-up to create something new. Design perfection or traditional values such as symmetry are very much not the point. Shocking some design purists, Gamper even made an improvised live performance out of breaking up and reconfiguring furniture designed by the Italian master Gio Ponti.

In Design Is a State of Mind at the Serpentine's Sackler Gallery, Gamper takes shelves as his subject matter. Several dozen systems have been installed, ranging from design classics by Alvar Aalto and Charlotte Perriand to those by contemporary makers such as Michael Marriot and an everyday unit from IKEA. On them are arranged collections of objects borrowed from Gamper's artier friends in London and elsewhere.

The history of shelving on display is a treat in itself for buffs who get off on the niceties of a well-turned out bracket but for designer-artist Gamper there is more at stake: he is suspicious of design's tendency to present simple solutions to life's problems and is keen to look at the way that things surrounding us inspire designers in the first place.

So here we have Anna Castelli Ferrieri's 1946 framework of walnut and metal poles supporting fellow designer Jurgen Bey's collection of animalrelated ephemera including a peacock feather brush, a bird's nest and kitschy china Bambi. Photographer Jason Evans's wooden spoons, picked up on his travels, are displayed like archaeological artefacts while graphic designer Maki Suzuki's brick collection is shown alongside the cover of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Paul Neale, another graphic designer, has also allowed Gamper to flick through his record collection, pulling out albums covers by the likes of Roxy Music and setting them alongside Neale's boxfiles of cuttings that inform his own practice.

Ron Arad's bits and bobs, arrayed on entirely industrial Dexion storage shelves, are particularly revealing. Arad was Gamper's tutor at the Royal College of Art after Gamper moved to London. The display includes a chainmail glove, pleated paper and the black plastic case of a cassette tape that melted in the strong Spanish sun into the chance silhouette of a bull. They reveal both Arad's particular eye for how things fold, join, twist and combine and how, in the objects chosen, they hold the same appeal for his former student.

More than a dozen of Gamper's own shelving units are in the show, ranging from the conventional Booksnake (a layering of veneered woods) to his Collective No5 from 2008 where mismatched drawers have been given new sleeves and then stacked teetering on bent metal legs. …