The Saatchi Gallery, a short walk from Sloane Square station and the Royal Court Theatre, is one of the best art galleries in London. The location, in the sun, manages to capture all the beauty of London in a single spot. Independent coffee shops and a local high street, Spanish guitar-players and an expanse of green are accessible within a two-minute walk. This lovely locale and the exciting exhibitions within the gallery itself is what lures me to the gallery. It showcases contemporary art that is accessible and engaging to both art experts and novices alike. Beginning on 9th April, and running until 10th May, is the fully immersive experience that suits such a wide audience – Wanderland, curated by Ben Gaudichon. As a ‘house of Hermès’ exhibition, it utilises the 1837-established Parisian fashion-house to inform its items and ideas. This is an experience akin to walking the film sets of Harry Potter, except that it’s high-fashion clothing and accessories via Alice in Wonderland, that creates the environment.
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Artistic Director of Hermès, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, writes of “urban wandering” and the practice of “flânerie” – aka, the aimless meandering that provokes and inspires. Moving to Paris and Turin later in 2015, Wanderland hints at dreaming and the surreal. The clear play on words in its name is a testament to its playful tone, as it toys with wonder and the term ‘wanderlust’, reiterating the desire to travel through an unbelievable cityscape. Broken into eleven sections, the use of A bout de soufflé, Les Quatre Cents Coups and Amélie in the first room, immediately appeals to our own appetite for the French way of life. This is what you need to bring to the table, an ambition to be the French Flâneur – cane in hand, happy to see quaint independent shops. A deep preference to stroll through a perfect (Parisian) world.
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Credited as sceneographer, Hubert Le Gall does make the ‘stroll’ vibrant and exciting. Streets are not mere recreations, and all include charming inventions and an innovative use of space. Peer into the small bottle to see a winking eye look back. Look into the painter’s palette of watercolour and witness the movement in blue. Crowds gathered around, desperately trying to steal a picture on their camera-phones. This isn’t an experience to recreate and won’t be captured on your digital device. This is an experience whereby the darkness covers what you don’t need to see – and the small (or big) highlights draw your attention to what matters. In one window-gaze, a small room transforms – but my experience was jarred by a viewer recording it on their phone. With the torch of their phone ruining Le Gall’s perfectly placed lighting.
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Wanderland is unique, creative and fun. A concern lays in its longevity, and whether the strolling Flâneur is at odds with the directed-nature of this exhibition. Within the third room, ‘the wardrobe’, the “two-sides of the Flâneur” are revealed. One light switches on to expose the pristine and perfectly arranged room. Then the light is off and the opposite room is messy and disorganised. These bulbs tell you where to look and when. You have a limited time and it is dictated. The pathway is clear, with each room connected numerically. Perhaps this is a flaw with the space, or a decision made on the curators part. But surely the Flâneur wanders without direction, stumbling upon the elephant in a china shop or the reflected circle-park – opposed to following a map (handed out on entrance). Wanderland may provoke and inspire, an accomplishment in itself, but it seems to be telling you what to dream of without leaving ambiguity or flexibility. Perhaps the freedom of wandering is what has been missed in the Saatchi Gallery’s wistful Wanderland.