With new installations created specifically for the exhibition and existing works reconfigured for the space, the overall experience of Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s ‘An Autumn Lexicon’ is one of intense visual pleasure.
Since the 1970s Chaimowicz has been working across media to explore domestic space and the interior. Through the creation of furniture, textiles, paintings and sculptures he investigates what it means to inhabit space and how the careful placement of objects can affect an encounter with a room.
The scale of the Serpentine Gallery particularly suits Chaimowicz’s work – while perhaps too large to be strictly domestic, the interconnected rooms provide an intimate stage for his installations. Pattern adorns surfaces throughout, on canvases, wallpapers and most intriguingly in the case of ‘For MvdR’ (2008) with acrylic paint printed onto large slabs of marble and granite. Flesh tones, mint greens and lavender greys perform the impressive act of feeling both on trend and directly borrowed from another era.
Recurring visual themes reveal that throughout his career Chaimowicz has built his own visual language and system of references, making the exhibition’s title particularly apt. The shapes cut from a stainless steel magazine rack are echoed in the central room where a diamond shaped aperture pierces the wall. Another motif is repeated on curtains covering the gallery windows and a woollen rug.
‘Interior with a Screen’ (1909-10) by Eduard Vuillard has been leant to the exhibition, where its pastel shades, loose brush strokes and subject matter appear as the starting points from which Chaimowicz’s oeuvre has grown. Preparatory pages for Chaimowicz’s book ‘World of Interiors’ (2008) divulge a range of visual and literary references, from Jean Genet and Gustave Flaubert, to Alberto Giacometti, Eric Ravilious, chubby cherubs and a photograph of a young Kate Moss. Elsewhere a text-based work quoting Lawrence Durrell introduces the idea of non-linear, serpentine time, a current that underlies Chaimowicz’s pretty, decadent surfaces.
In a quote introducing the exhibition catalogue, Chaimowicz proposes an approach to time that is folded in on itself, with distant events more familiar than those from the recent past. Included in the exhibition is a photograph of the gallery, which is just recognisable in its former use as a tearoom, summoning the memory of the building to jostle with the exhibition’s other references.
Another moment from the gallery’s past is evoked through the reinstallation of ‘Enough Tiranny’ (1972-2016). Through these early ‘scatter environments’ Chaimowicz disrupted social relations between artist, visitor and gallery. Objects are strewn across the floor – including strings of fairy lights, scattered confetti, vases of flowers and various abandoned hats – forcing visitors to pick their way gingerly through the space. Rather than meeting viewers politely at eye level, the work demands a severe bend of the neck to peer down or to crouch for a closer look. In 1972 these scattered objects referenced popular culture and everyday life; today they are perfectly preserved relics from another time. Yet, perhaps a result of Chaimowicz’s looped time, ‘Enough Tiranny’ still feels vibrant, urgent and provocatively awkward.