The Serpentine Summer Pavilion Is Made for Meditation

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LONDON — The new Serpentine Summer Pavilion, designed by Theaster Gates, is a space for contemplation and communion.

Titled “Black Chapel,” it references bottle and beehive kilns from Stoke-on-Trent, England, and the American West, as well as the Musgum mud huts of Cameroon and the Kasubi Tombs of Kampala, Uganda.

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The pavilion, which is located outside the main Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, is a black cylinder shape made from lightweight timber with materials that were sourced sustainably.

Inside, seven hanging panels pay homage to the craft of roofers, Gates’ late father’s occupation. A bronze bell rescued from St. Laurence, a landmark Catholic Church from the South Side of Gates’ native Chicago, sits next to the entrance.

On Tuesday, during the opening, Gates described “Black Chapel” as a safe haven for those that want to rest from the pressures of the world, and take some quiet time.

The Serpentine summer pavilion designed by Theaster Gates. - Credit: Image Courtesy of Iwan Baan
The Serpentine summer pavilion designed by Theaster Gates. - Credit: Image Courtesy of Iwan Baan

Image Courtesy of Iwan Baan

The artist himself has been making extra time for meditation and yoga in the wake of the pandemic.

“I microdosed on everything that I could, just try to get through the times. I feel like I picked up yoga as a kind of new practice,” said Gates, adding that he became accustomed to “holding a position until it hurts, and continuing to hold a position and breathing through it. I then imagined that I could get to a point where the position no longer hurts,” he said.

Over the next months, the pavilion will host on-site experiences where artists, musicians and poets will showcase their work.

They have been invited by Yesomi Umolu, the Serpentine’s director of curatorial affairs and public practice. The architect David Adjaye and Lesley Lokko, the curator of the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale, are acting as advisers, and helping to curate the program.

Theaster Gates
Theaster Gates

“You want it to be a destination point where there can be this moment of awe in the structure itself or around nature,” said Umolu, adding, “it’s also a space to activate friendship. But maybe kinship is a good way to put it, to feel kind of ‘in communion’ with others who you might not know directly, but you’re having a shared experience with.”

Umolu joined the Serpentine at the beginning of 2020, moving to London from Chicago where she was a director of a gallery and a tutor at the University of Chicago. She met Gates through the college faculty and later worked with him on his installations for the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

“Both cities share an investment in culture, in the creative industries and certainly what Gates is doing on the South Side is not just creating cultural spaces,” she said.

“He wants to support creative practitioners, whether they’re artists, potters, furniture makers or designers. He’s really invested in supporting creators like himself,” Umolu added.

Gates staged his first London show with White Cube in 2012, and said the new pavilion marks his 10-year reunion with London.

Theaster Gates’ new pavilion at the Serpentine. - Credit: Image Courtesy of the Serpentine Gallery
Theaster Gates’ new pavilion at the Serpentine. - Credit: Image Courtesy of the Serpentine Gallery

Image Courtesy of the Serpentine Gallery

“Over the years, I’ve done many, many things, but I feel like, in some ways, this city is my second home. In the wake of the Venice Biennale, it’s pavilion season — they’re everywhere! It’s an honor to be able to contribute to creating a work for the public space,” Gates said.

He said he was especially proud to have been invited by the architecture community, as a non-architect, to create something in London. “It wasn’t even on my radar as a possibility. This is really only my second pavilion ever. So I just feel thankful that London has always believed in my practice. I’ve been working for 12 years as a professional artist and I still feel like I’m a baby.”

The first Serpentine Summer Pavilion opened in 2000 and was designed by the British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Over the years, the gallery has gone on to showcasing the work of some of the biggest names in architecture, ranging from Ai Weiwei to Bjarke Ingels.

The 21st Serpentine Pavilion opens to the public on June 10, and will run until Oct. 16.

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