When leaving the bustle of London for Somerset you may expect to be met by something rather restrained … not so when you enter Gruppenausstellung at Hauser and Wirth’s Somerset gallery as there’s art all around you, neon lights blaring and works suspended from the ceiling.
This art overload is intentional in this celebration of the gallery’s Swiss heritage with over 20 artists presenting a playful show – and what’s more playful than Pipilotti Rist’s chandelier made of underpants, which takes centre stage in the first room. Even the transitions to other rooms, whether it be by tunnel or through shimmering glittering curtains, keeps it light and fun throughout.
Martin Creed’s neon sign screaming ‘hello’ greets visitors as they enter, and it wouldn’t look amiss at a trendy Shoreditch restaurant and Roman Signer’s table floating with each leg in a bucket of water keeps the absurdity level high. It’s this first section of the exhibition that will remain unchanged as once we venture further down the rabbit hole it gets more transitional.
The second section acts as a walk-in cinema with films playing that will rotate every week so I caught a few by Pipilotti Rist but for locals who can visit regularly it will keep it fresh.
The show ends with one of my favourite works in the show – Paul McCarthy’s ‘white snow dwarves’ that subvert the cutesy seven dwarfs from Snow White and have them falling apart or impaled in both drawings and sculpture. It’s tame by the artist’s standards given in the past he’s created a giant butt plug Christmas tree and a pair of mechanical men having sex with pigs and making eye contact with visitors. Yet, this piece allows his subversive humour to shine through more subtly, and it’s keeping in theme with the show.
I visited on the Saturday opening and it had a great vibe of being open to all, with lots of families exploring the space and grabbing the free food on offer and it struck me how community focussed it all feels given that it’s a commercial gallery. It’s a lovely touch given how inaccessible a lot of commercial galleries can feel at times, and that vibe continues through the show.
It may not be the strongest exhibition there’s been at this space but it’s probably the most fun and accessible one they’ve hosted, and should open it up to new visitors.
Nearby in the town of Bruton, and a short walk away from Hauser and Wirth, Bo Lee and Workman is a new gallery in a beautiful converted church – with a fitting opening exhibition to go with it. Jonathan Michael Ray’s work draws from the idea of the sacred including his collages made from found shards of stained glass windows to create beautiful abstract pieces.
He also draws from the graffiti found on churches to create new works that pull in markings made hundreds of years ago, right through to declarations of love with initials in hearts made in more recent times. The work blends in perfectly with the architecture of the gallery and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting artist to have inaugurated this new contemporary gallery space.
Gruppenausstellung is on at Hauser and Wirth, Somerset until 1 January 2024 – free to visit.
Jonathan Michael Ray: The Voice in the Shadow is on at Bo Lee and Workman until 24 June – free to visit.
First two images courtesy Hauser and Wirth, Somerset. Third image courtesy Bo Lee and Workman.