The New Décor at the Hayward Gallery

The first room of the Hayward Gallery’s “The New Décor” gives the distinct impression that you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, imbibed the little bottle marked “Drink Me” and shrunk down to explore the exhibition as a miniature Alice in Wonderland.

Giant, brightly coloured furniture surrounds you, and it’s all gone a bit awry. A large cluster of oversized lamps by Franz West look a little sick, like they’ve seen better days. A brown, resin-like substance drips down the yellow surfaces of the shades. Gelitin has created the strongest piece in the room, a sofa made from various cut-up old chairs spliced together, with sections of chair legs protruding menacingly from random parts. Two teddy bears have been decapitated and lie slumped, bums in the air, across the sofa seat. The eyes of one have been torn apart, bits of the face still attached, and stapled onto two sections of the sofa back. This is the design of children’s nightmares, come to life in all its terrifying glory.

“The New Décor” brings together 36 artists from 22 countries, who have taken on the language of interior design but subverted it for their own ends. The gallery spaces are packed to the rafters, with no corner left untouched. The mood changes from room to room, ranging from delight to menace to intrigue. As you ascend the ramp up to room two, you must negotiate Jim Lambie’s ZOBOP, 2002, a high-energy piece that covers the floor with gold, silver, black and white stripes, arranged in geometric patterns reminiscent of a Bridget Riley painting. I helped make one of these floor pieces once and it nearly destroyed my knees forever. The beguiling simplicity of the piece belies the aching precision involved in putting together this optical showpiece. At the top of the ramp is a door. It’s covered in a mass of handles of different types – which one will you choose? It doesn’t matter anyway, none of them will let you in. The gap between the door and the wall has been replaced by a solid piece of convex mirror, elongating your body as you gaze into its shiny surface, reflecting Martin Boyce’s giant neon spiderweb on the ceiling.

The oversized theme continues, with Ugo Rondinone’s huge medieval castle-style doors leading to nowhere, sporting an enormous keyhole straight out of a fairytale. There’s lots of playful lighting around too, jumbo lamps in corners and massive bulbs dangling from ceilings and protruding from walls. Through a couple of fairly baffling rooms (one with a remarkable chair creation from Loris Cecchini) and into the home straight… past Mona Hatoum’s predictable contribution (she is the queen of eliciting horror from simple domestic objects, here a metal bed frame with the base grid replaced by rusty barbed wire), into Elmgreen & Dragset’s creepy service lift containing a metal bunk bed with the top mattress inverted to face down onto the lower, via Urs Fischer’s similarly menacing heavy metal door (at one point I think someone’s about to shut me in and mild panic ensues). I emerge back into the gallery to confront a clock by Raqs Media Collective, but the hands point to emotions instead of numbers. Appropriately, at 8.55pm, they are pointing to “remorse” – I have only five more minutes to absorb the rest of this dense show – and I notice that five minutes earlier would have pointed to “panic”, exactly at the time I was sweating it out in the service lift. I like this clock.

I run on to the final room, to be confronted by just about the perfect image – a woman (a famous designer I think) dressed head to toe in fluorescent pink, including a bright pink hood partially covering her bright pink hair, is cocooned, swinging, in a gigantic S&M-style hammock made of big metal chains suspended from the ceiling, by Monica Bonvicini. The vision in pink springs to life, climbs out and walks away from this theatrical stage set of an exhibition, as, now, must I. The sound of a deep and persistent drumroll drifts through the space, an intrusion from the Ernesto Neto exhibition upstairs, but that’s another story…

This article was published in Domus magazine, 30 June. To view it in context, go to www.domusweb.it/design/article.cfm?id=257952&lingua=_eng