I saw the ads. I read the previews. I couldn’t wait for Ernesto Neto’s Edge of the World exhibition – this year’s summer offering from the Hayward Gallery. Weeks and months went by and I was just too busy to get to it. Rosie, my co-editor went and loved it. Yesterday I realised that it was in its final few days: I had to go or miss out on what one critic claimed was the most fun one can have in a gallery. Wrong.
Edge of the World has all the makings of a fantastic summer exhibition. The skilled Brazilian artist has made the inside of the Hayward look more akin to the stuff of (childhood) dreams, acid trips or Telly Tubby land. The sheer skill, planning, ingenuity and execution that has gone into covering all the walls with what looks like immaculately stretched out silk stockings (actually, it is polyamide tulle fabric) and meticulously filling certain areas with lavender and chamomile to resemble the microvilli of the small intestine is astounding, ethereal and beautiful all at once. Neto has created an organism – complete with its own heart into which one can climb and create a heartbeat by beating a drum – the outer limbs of which extend to the outdoor terrace areas of the gallery. One of the terraces even has a swimming pool where visitors can swim: provided they don’t mind paying an extra few quid and sharing it with squealing brats.
And that’s where Edge of the World disappoints. The installation, magnificent as it is, was quite clearly commissioned with the summer holiday throngs in mind, leaving little left as food for thought. One spends most of the time dodging hyperactive kids and exhausted looking mothers, giving the gallery the ambience of a local leisure centre on a hot day. I am sure the Hayward and Neto intended (one hopes) for adults to give into childish abandon and interact with the installation, but there is not any opportunity to do so during the summer months. Needless to say, the press were able to do just that during what would have been an adults-only press viewing.
New Decor, located on the bottom floor of the Hayward, is also disappointing. Artworks inspired by various bits of furniture and household materials such as hangers and light bulbs offer only three or four truly wonderful pieces. One is a disused mattress covered completely with a miscellany of buttons, each representing a dream which has been dreamed on said mattress. Another is the mesmerising, completely reconstructed room of a Chinese migrant worker (looked upon as mere cogs in a machine by their society), complete with dirt, dust and debris – the only difference is that everything is exactly half the size it would be in real life.
Perhaps my hopes for this summer’s exhibition at the Hayward had been set too high by their previously satisfying shows such as Robin Rhode’s Who Saw Who and last summer’s Walking in My Mind. And at £8 for a concession ticket, it made my 15 minute whizz around one of my most expensive trip to a gallery.