The Serpentine opens its 50th anniversary by looking to the future with a programme that responds to the urgent issues of today.
Building on a tradition of boundary-crossing firsts, from the architecture Pavilion and digital commissions to the ideas marathon and the General Ecology programme, the Serpentine has expanded well beyond the walls of what was built as a Hyde Park teahouse in the 1930s. The 2020 programme will take place inside the galleries and beyond: outside in the park, offsite in London and around the world, and online.
The Serpentine’s 2020 programme ranges from the first major UK show for China’s pre-eminent young artist Cao Fei, to the multi-platform, multi-year initiative Back to Earth; from a career-spanning six decade survey for trailblazing British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor to Radio Ballads, a long term project placing artists at the heart of social care services in Barking & Dagenham. A year of active ecological thinking begins with Formafantasma’s Cambio, an exhibition that focuses on the political and environmental responsibilities of design. 2020 closes with a solo exhibition from artist Jennifer Packer and a sensodrome imagined by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster.
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Programme Highlights 2020
Cao Fei: Blueprints
4 March - 17 May
Cao Fei’s immersive, site-specific installation Blueprints expands on themes of automation, virtuality and technology, examining the social history and urban transformation of Beijing’s Jiuxianqiao (Hong Xia) district with the world premiere of The Eternal Wave, a new Virtual Reality work produced with Acute Art, and the UK premiere of a new film Nova.
Formafantasma operate between the traditional disciplines of design, contemporary art, and research, probing the global industries that consume natural resources. Their Serpentine exhibition Cambio continues their investigations into experimental materials and detailed explorations of the transformation of natural resources into commodities with a focus on the timber industry. This project seeks connections with science, conservation, engineering and policymaking, adopting a pioneering multidisciplinary approach to contemporary design.
Future Art Ecosystems Report Launch
Future Art Ecosystems is a pioneering holistic analysis of how artistic engagements with advanced technologies are irreversibly transforming the art world, designed as a strategic briefing for practitioners and organisations across art, science and technology.
The briefing, produced by the Serpentine Galleries’ R&D Platform and Rival Strategy, is based on the Serpentine’s experience working with cutting edge art and technology projects, as well as ongoing conversations across broader networks as part of the Serpentine’s commitment to sector-convening around art and technology. Future Art Ecosystems charts new paths and horizons for the role that art can play in shaping technologies of the future.
2 June - 6 September
The first large-scale review of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, whose career as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer spans six decades and records major social and political changes in London and Accra. Born in 1929 in Ghana, James Barnor experienced first-hand his country’s independence as well as the formation of the diaspora to London in the 1960s. In the early 1950s, he opened his famous Ever Young studio in Accra, where he immortalised a nation craving modernity and independence in an ambiance that was animated by conversation and highlife music.
Back to Earth
4 June - 6 September
Leading artists, musicians, architects, poets, filmmakers, scientists, thinkers and designers have been invited to propose artworks and projects that call to action in response to the climate emergency.
Back to Earth will address key topics facing our world, such as water and toxicity, fishing, farming and the limits of consumption. It will also explore and challenge our understandings of indigenous land rights and legal personhood and healing.
While Back to Earth is conceived as a slow initiative, it begins with a call to artists, partners and friends to take immediate action by imagining how to improve the present, and by extension the future.
The project emerges out of the Serpentine’s long-standing engagement with the topics of ecology and extinction. Key commissions include artist Gustav Metzger’s landmark solo show Decades (2009), and the 2014 Extinction Marathon, which Metzger co-curated. Now well established, General Ecology is the Serpentine’s multi-disciplinary and multi-platform strand that embeds environmental and ecological concerns across the Galleries’ programmes, infrastructure and networks, led by Curator of General Ecology, Lucia Pietroiusti.
Back to Earth will run throughout the Galleries’ programmes onsite, offsite and online, in 2020 and beyond.
Pavilion 20th Anniversary
June - October
Since 2000, the Serpentine has commissioned internationally renowned and emerging architects to create their first built structure in England, offering audiences the opportunity to engage with their work first-hand. The Pavilion commission has become an international site for architectural experimentation.
At its core will be the Galleries’ ambitious programme of events, performances, debates, discussions and symposia linked to the Back to Earth programme, as well as the critically acclaimed Park Nights series and Recipes for Change, the Galleries’ lunchtime community platform.
From 24 September
This survey exhibition will include paintings and drawings from the past decade alongside recent work. Jennifer Packer is known for her intimate portraits of friends and family members, interior scenes and funerary bouquet still lifes. She acknowledges her choice to paint figures as political, stating ‘representation and particularly, observation from life, are ways of bearing witness and sharing testimony,’ which are of central concern in the work.
From 7 October
For the Serpentine Gallery, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster imagines a kind of sensodrome… will it be speculative fiction? Will it be a mutant place contributing to the invention of new technologies of consciousness? What if aliens were in love with us?
Serpentine Galleries in Barking & Dagenham - Radio Ballads for the 21st Century
Four leading contemporary artists, Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar , have been commissioned by the Serpentine for a major two-year project with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. The project marks the anniversary of the 1970 Equal Pay Act and is inspired by the seminal Radio Ballads made for the BBC Home Service by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in the late 1950s. These new ballads for the 21st Century bring our attention to contemporary working life - precarity, zero hours contracts, self-employment, unpaid care and ageing - and explore the power of art and artists working directly within the delivery of public services.
2020 closes with the second Rights to the City? forum, bringing together artists, organisations and practitioners from around the world to explore the place of social and political activity in art making. Rights to the City? will be co-curated with artist Suzanne Lacy.
The Serpentine’s digital programmes, led by Chief Technology Officer Ben Vickers, place artists at the centre of shaping the role that technology can play in our society and culture. Pioneering commissions include Jakob Kudsk Steensen’s portal to a virtual forest, Catharsis, supported by K-pop superstars BTS, Hito Steyerl’s app measuring local inequality, and Ian Cheng’s development of complex artificial life. Current activity includes a new Research & Development platform supporting research labs which springboard high impact and scalable propositions such as a Life Sciences Lab led by designer, creative director and researcher, Yasaman Sheri, which will be geared towards supporting artistic interventions into ecology and biotechnology.
The Serpentine commissions artists to work with children, families and young people, to collectively address urgent social issues. 2020 programmes will focus on policing, care, housing and education. Building on the work developed over the last 10 years, the Serpentine will expand young people’s programmes through partnerships with youth organisations and services in Westminster and beyond.
Serpentine Education onsite activity includes ongoing educators workshop series Cracks in the Curriculum and an artist led, year-round Family Programme.