Issue no. 114 of Texte zur Kunst contains my (slightly belated) review of Pierre Huyghe’s show Uumwelt at the Serptentine Gallery, with its swarming flies and flickering images derived from brain scans that were fed into a deep neural network. In my text, “Systemic Aestheticization,” I discuss the work largely in the framework of Huyghe’s practice, while acknowledging the role it plays in a certain financialized artworld in which neoliberalism morphs into neofeudalism. Recent developments suggest that this project should also be evaluated in the specific institutional framework of the Serpentine.
The Guardian has revealed that the Serpentine’s CEO, Goldman Sachs-trained Yana Peel, co-owns the Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO—producer of the notorious Pegasus spy software, which seems to have been used against every dissident and human rights group on the planet. Yana Peel is of course very big on human rights, inclusion and diversity. She’s also been pushing the Serpentine to become a “tech startup” and take on projects like Huyghe’s or Hito Steyerl’s. At the opening of her exhibition (which followed on Huyghe’s), Steyerl compared the gallery’s sponsorship by the Sackler family to “being married to a serial killer.” I suppose the metaphor would have to be tweaked somewhat in light of recent revelations.
All of this also raises serious questions about what it means to review an exhibition at an institution such as the Serpentine, and to separate the ergon from the parergon, the work from the frame. Of course, such a line of questioning would be a terribly unfashionable form of critique. No wonder that the Serpentine’s bookstore now massively pushes certain forms of “speculative” para-theory, apparently having imposed a ban on uncouth critical thinking.