Marisa Merz and Adrián Villar Rojas at the Serpentine Galleries

-These exhibitions are now closed-
To coincide with the recent opening of the new Sackler Gallery, the Serpentine Galleries launched two new exhibitions; a collection of work by celebrated veteran Italian artist Marisa Merz and, across the bridge in the new gallery, a site-specific installation by the acclaimed young Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas.

Associated with the 1960s Arte Povera movement, Merz has created many works with found objects and ‘low’ materials. Her 1966 Untitled (Living Sculpture) is a cascading series of huge aluminium sheets, curved and tubular, both organic and industrial, like giant metallic snake skins. Elsewhere, a collection of unfired clay pots, decorated with gold leaf and obscure human faces, emerge from a large tray of thick paraffin on the floor like archaeological treasures, snail shells stick to nylon wire structures like tiny interlopers from the natural world, and crayon and pastel drawings vaguely suggest female faces, hidden behind layers of sensual colour or smoky spray paint. Merz’s work is full of high-minded oppositions, between natural and artificial, craft and high art, figuration and abstraction, but her use of found materials is also grounding, familiar and approachable.

Tasked with creating an installation to open the hotly-anticipated new Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Villar Rojas has created a wonderfully fragile, witty and curious exhibition. Working predominantly in clay, Villar Rojas’s work is both earthy and delicate, epitomised perfectly by the huge elephant sculpture at the entry to the gallery, which seems to be holding the building’s entire concrete structure on its back; perhaps a metaphor for the weight of history on the artist’s own shoulders in creating the inaugural show for this renovated 19th-century ammunition store. The first room of the show contains a treasure-trove of smaller sculptures, predominantly in disintegrating clay. Organic objects such as animals and fruit stand alongside modern appliances and pop culture figures, as if the contemporary world has been fossilised and uncovered thousands of years in the future. The second gallery room is empty but for a stained-glass window high up below the vaulted ceiling, like a small, dark chapel. The contrast between the two rooms, one full of objects and the other dedicated to spirituality, goes some way to defining the conflicting poles of modern human life.

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery has given new life to this area of Hyde Park, complimenting the already existing Serpentine Gallery and creating a reinvigorated destination for contemporary art.