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Installation artistry

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Architects from Carlo Scarpa to Rem Koolhaas have shown the surprising flexibility of London's Hayward Gallery

'I have never understood the grumbles against the Hayward, ' said Cedric Price in 1993. 'It is intriguingly tortuous, varied in volume, elevation and plane, provides a choice of optical sequential sets both inside and out, and above all is a little uncut gem of a building ready to put to the test the qualities of artist, administrator and viewer alike.' (Art Monthly, October 1993. ) Price knows the building well: his appraisal is succinct and acute. But he might well have included his own profession among those whose qualities have been tested by the Hayward over the decades, for architects have been involved in the design and staging of a good proportion of the hundreds of exhibitions mounted there since it opened in 1968.

The list is surprisingly long and distinguished: it includes Carlo Scarpa, Piers Gough, Aldo Rossi, Tony Fretton, Mark Fisher, Claudio Silvestrin (several times), Stanton Williams (often), and in recent years Zaha Hadid, Ian Ritchie, Caruso St John, Robert Barnes, Hudson Featherstone and Rem Koolhaas.

Whether because of the complexity of its spaces or its programme, or just through its own sense of mission, the Hayward has taken the lead, here and abroad, in involving architects (as opposed to exhibition designers) in exhibition installation - a practice now increasingly common in London at both Tates, the Royal Academy and the Barbican.

As a building and as a space for mounting exhibitions, the Hayward has enjoyed mixed critical fortune. The pendulum of public opinion in its favour has swung back and forth, most noticeably in response to perceived threats to the building or proposed changes to its structure or usage. On rare occasions architects and architectural critics have roundly criticised the building, but in general they have over the years provided its most stalwart, eloquent and inventive body of support.

Last year, when the current South Bank site development scheme called widely for public comment on a broad range of options for the future of the Hayward building within the overall redevelopment of the site, architects declared themselves overwhelmingly in favour of retention and refurbishment of the existing structure rather than rebuilding. Despite its cussedness, it seems to be a building that architects (among many others) would prefer to work with rather than replace.

Certainly a large number of them worked on the building through the design process: over more than a decade, successive generations of young architects in the London County Council Architects' Department struggled to create and maintain a bold vision for the building through a maze of changing briefs and committee decisions. What emerged, by 1968, was a 'purpose-built' gallery, wellequipped technically according to the standards of the day. Soon after opening, however, to great fanfares, with shows of Matisse, Van Gogh and Anthony Caro in its first year - all in relatively unmodulated spaces - it was called upon to house an utterly different exhibition, of Quattrocento frescoes from Florence, and the doyen of museum display, Carlo Scarpa (by no means a fan of the Hayward's architecture himself ), was called in to design its installation.

The result, both for technical and aesthetic reasons, amounted to a radical architectural intervention and transformation of the gallery's spaces and surfaces. Since then, similar interventions have been called for in the display of - as well as paintings, sculpture and photography - pre-Columbian sculpture and Russian revolutionary art, Fortuny dresses and Islamic carpets, Indian miniatures and models of Palladian villas, video walls and racing cars, five-tonne granite sculptures and intangible light or sound environments.

When you enter the Hayward, you are in a separate world, sealed from the outside. In their raw state, with their shuttered concrete, aluminium ceiling grilles, exposed Corbusian staircases, and their almost total lack of daylight, the Hayward's spaces are as far from the modular top-lit cells of Tate Britain at Millbank as they are from the conventional salons of the Royal Academy.

In practice, these spaces are seldom seen as they were first conceived.Revealed most recently for the Belgian artist Panamarenko's flying machines, and perhaps most memorably in 1991 for Richard Long's much-admired 'Walking in Circles', they are more often encountered as an everchanging sequence of more-or-less open spaces, differently configured and routed, interpenetrating or labyrinthine, busy or 'cool', neutral or heavily rhetoricised, multicoloured or plain, bright white.The gallery's capacity to present itself in new and surprising guises is one of its most noted characteristics - and this is often thanks to the architect's intervention.

Architectural installation is an illdefined field.There are few who specialise in it above other areas of practice, and few hard and fast rules. Architects are less likely to be selected for previous work in the field than for their ability to handle space and materials, their perceived sympathy for the work to be shown and its aesthetic, their showmanship, or on occasion their specific technical expertise.

They may enter a project in its early, formative stages, or at a later moment, when the exhibition itself is fully formed.

The architect's brief can vary enormously. At its simplest, it may be to provide a series of neutral, flexible spaces and a straightforward route, or routes, throughout the gallery in keeping with the balance of the exhibition and the nature of the works, providing for the demands and inevitable surprises of an as yet unspecified hang.The geometry of the spaces may be modified, extra walls built, ceilings lowered, plinths and cases provided.At its most complex, however, collaboration can call for a scheme which answers the precise display needs of every single work, or, indeed, the creation of a framework which imposes a unity on a diverse set of exhibits, an architectural rhetoric which follows or extends the content of the exhibition.

The Hayward can work successfully as a shell with no architecture: most often with sculpture (as Richard Long showed so well) and even on occasion with painting - for instance, the works of Howard Hodgkin (1996) and the triptychs of Francis Bacon (1998). But even with 'straightforward' paintings, a curator's approach may call for very different treatment. Paul Williams' response, for Magritte in 1992, to the curator David Sylvester's wish to hang each work, like an icon, on a separate wall, led to a complex and elegant design of a series of cells, at times claustrophobic, at times expansive and chapel-like, through the galleries.

The particular nature of the work, too, may demand complex technical solutions.

Anish Kapoor's extraordinary 'void' sculptures (in an installation designed by Claudio Silvestrin with the artist in 1998) called for the expertise of engineers and quantity surveyors in piercing the thick concrete of the gallery floor and walls into which the works were embedded.And the exhibition of Bruce Nauman's audio-visual work the same year posed the technical and aesthetic challenge - superbly mastered by Ian Ritchie and Christophe Gerard - of balancing the discrete needs of sound and light pieces within a scheme which remained as open and interconnected as possible.

Whether the architectural installation is simple or complex, the architect may opt to highlight, 'correct' or deny the inherent nature of the Hayward's spaces.

Paul Williams' design for 'Romanesque' (1984) found a striking equivalence between medieval and modern. As one critic observed at the time, 'he has conquered the confoundedness of the Hayward Gallery . . . by utilising the qualities of its architecture that express a solidity of magnificence and mass', all in keeping with the works on show.

Working on the display of preColumbian sculpture in 1992, Williams again skilfully exploited the full and varied heights of the galleries to monumental effect, raising the totemic stone figures on a raked floor, high above the viewer. As Andrew Graham-Dixon noted, the design 'predicated the whole show on the notion of distance, which becomes a metaphor for the immense cultural void that separates these objects from those inspecting them.'

The solution can, on occasion (as with Paul Williams' sublime staging of Yves Klein in 1995), be to 'lose' the particularities of the building (the concrete, the aluminium ceiling strips) to create a floating atmosphere of white cube-like spaces.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it is architectural shows which have taken this denial of the building to an extreme: Piers Gough's installation for the Lutyens exhibition in 1982 perhaps went furthest in hiding the 'Brutalist' Hayward, transforming the interior and placing objects, models, drawings and photographs within a series of elaborate and evocative recreations of Lutyensesque spaces. If this was pastiche, it was effective pastiche, and earned acclaim.

Other architects have effectively exploited the variety of the 'sequential sets' Cedric Price described. Mark Fisher's installation for 'Art and Power: Art in Europe under the Dictators' (1995) succinctly evoked the contrasting architectural aesthetics of totalitarian Italy, Germany and the Soviet Union.

Fisher played to the bombastic nature of the Hayward where appropriate, elsewhere juxtaposing styles through the insertion of theatrical 'takes' on period architectural detail. Similarly, Zaha Hadid's ambitious display for 'Addressing the Century: 100 Years of Art and Fashion' (1998) imposed on the diverse exhibits a unifying rhetoric at once identifiably her own and contemporary, and yet at times judiciously evocative of the particular contexts and styles of the 'moments' across the century on which the exhibition focused.

Perhaps the greatest level of engagement in the concept of an exhibition has been that of Rem Koolhaas in working on 'Cities on the Move' (1999), a lively and open-ended presentation of East Asian art and architecture now. He exhibited his own building designs, as well as providing - in discussion with the curators - a defining structure and dominating aesthetic for a display which, following the opportunism and voracity of the exhibition's subject, plundered and recycled elements of a number of preceding architectural installations at the Hayward.

Where, then, do the limits lie? As critics come to focus on the architect's design alongside or even independently of the exhibition itself, can curators justifiably voice that old concern that design may dominate the work on display? In times of austerity, too, the involvement of an architect may seem a luxury.And yet, at its best, successful design does not put the exhibition works in its shadow: it can make them work to greatest effect, bring out their intrinsic worth, the message of the artist and the curator, and the value of the build-

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