Marc Camille Chaimowicz: Discoballs and déjà vu

Serpentine Gallery surveys full breadth of artist’s work in a great London show

Anyone who has visited degree shows and biennials, browsed trendy design magazines or followed contemporary fashion over the past decade will be familiar with the work of Marc Camille Chaimowicz. Green and lavender pastels, objects that hover between furniture and works of art and cartoon-like squiggle motifs repeated on wallpaper are just some of the aspects that will be recognisable—even if you have not been to a Chaimowicz show before.

Although the London-based, French artist is well known within the art world, he is less famous to those outside of it. So there was “a need for a great London show of his work”, says the exhibition’s curator Melissa Blanchflower. The exhibition consists of around 40 pieces that show the breadth of Chaimowicz’s work, including chaises longues, a magazine rack, live goldfish and painted marble panels.

“His approach to making art is so fluid and interchangeable: from his designs for a chair to more traditional paintings to using photocopies taped to the wall,” Blanchflower says. “This kind of interdisciplinary approach is really important to artists [today].” And it is part of the reason his work has been so influential to younger artists.

The largest survey to date of Chaimowicz’s work in London does not, though, chronicle the artist’s development. The Serpentine Gallery’s modest size makes such an endeavour difficult. Instead, the exhibition is— “[to] describe it in a very Marc Camille way—a precis or summary of his practice”, Blanchflower says.

The survey also plays with the gallery’s location. It was originally a park café before its conversion into a gallery in 1970. Chaimowicz, who has been closely involved in putting the exhibition together, has made a mural facing the windows onto the park, entitled an Imaginary Landscape. There are “these incredible curtains going across the main windows of the space that diffuse and play with the light and colour within the gallery”, Blanchflower says. There are strange wooden polygon structures leaning against the wall, which it takes a few minutes to realise are the designs for the windows in the newly built Cabinet, London’s latest gallery in a park.

In 1972, a couple of years after the building was turned into a gallery, Chaimowicz debuted his Enough Tiranny installation at the Serpentine, complete with disco ball, coloured lights and glam rock records. The work “feels like the choreographed remnants of a party”, Blanchflower says, and has now been re-created in the same room it was first shown in four decades ago. But, as with many of Chaimowicz’s works, there is an undercurrent of something else, something outside of the gallery space, Blanchflower says. In the case of Enough Tiranny, it is Chaimowicz’s deliberate misspelling of the work’s title to include the letters “IRA”—a reference to the Bloody Sunday massacre and multiple IRA bombings in Northern Ireland that happened that year. Alongside his own works, Chaimowicz has included two pieces by artists working a century apart.

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, For MvdR (2008)

The first work is by the avant-garde artist Edouard Vuillard. His Interior with a Screen (1909-10), on loan from the Courtauld Gallery, has clear similarities to the works on show in terms of its palette and the light—the screen mimicked by the nearby Chaimowicz marble panels and the rectangular window above it.

The second guest piece is a film by the classically trained Scottish choreographer Michael Clark. With its “elements of music, punk and anarchy”, it hints at what is below the surface of Chaimowicz’s aesthetics.

Ideas around time and repetition are also important elements in Chaimowicz’s work. The exhibition’s catalogue begins with a quote by the artist calling for resistance to “the tyranny of linear time”. He treats time as a “folding, repetitive mechanism—there’s déjà vu, there’s Proust within his work”, Blanchflower says. “Some paintings are a repeat of each other, so you get these flashes of images that re-burn in your retina and you ask yourself, ‘Have I seen these before?’”

• Marc Camille Chaimowicz: an Autumn Lexicon, Serpentine Gallery, until 20 November