‘Space Shifters’ at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London. Exhibition review.

Space Shifters are installations or rather ‘interventions’ planted across the Hayward Gallery. Each of the twenty featured artists had different ideas of how artworks should behave in space. Rather than just ‘be’ in a room, the works respond to the architecture and the audience, several of them literally require human agency. Many sculptures on display are made of materials with different light-reflective properties, they distort the reflections in unexpected ways.

Curtains made by Daniel Steegmann Mangrané (⸦ ⸧ (2018)) and Felix Gonzalez-Torres (Untitled (Golden)(1995)) simultaneously divide and connect spaces, the viewers must interrupt the artworks when moving across the gallery. Such interactive approach is explored by several artists, reflective slabs or strange mirrors only come to life when somebody stands in front of them. Josiah McElheny’s Interactive Abstract Bodies (2012) go a step further, performers who carry mirror-sculptures on their bodies walking along the gallery transform static sculptures into kinetic art.[1]

Alicja Kwade’s WeltenLinie (2017) is a good example of a work designed to alter our perceptions. In a maze constructed of double sided mirrors, the artist plays tricks on us. Walking around this installation we begin to distrust our own eyes, wondering whether what is in front of us is a real reflection or not.

Alicja Kwade WeltenLinie (2017) Shape Shifters exhibition installation view (Photo: Ground Impressions)

The artworks on display range from 1950s until present day. Many older works still retain their freshness and are quite fun, while others are less than impressive today. What you make of them largely depends on your personal preference and attitudes towards minimalist or kinetic art, several examples of which can be found in the Space Shifters. This is not a type of exhibition that requires a chronological approach, each work needs a different architectural setting in order to communicate with the viewer. For example Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror, Blue (2016) is on the roof and can only be seen in daylight.

Several pre-existing artworks had to be manipulated and rearranged to fit within the gallery spaces, such as the hundreds of stainless steel spheres, which make up Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden (1966-2018). The Handrail (2016-2018) by Monika Sosnowska is another of those ‘interventions’ that can only work when combined with specific features of the building, beginning at the lower level gallery wall, like a serpent, or climbing plant it follows the real handrail upstairs to the upper gallery. There are also a few special commissions. Leonor Antunes was commissioned by the Hayward Gallery to create a work which responds to the gallery’s raw modernist architecture, her golden geometrical hanging discrepancies with A. (2018) is quite spectacular. On a side note discrepancies with A. are a nod towards Anni Albers, 20th century textile artist known for her wall hangings.[2] (You can read about Albers in my earlier blog post here).

Shape Shifters exhibition installation view – detail of artworks by Monika Sosnowska and Leonor Antunes (Photo: Ground Impressions)

The key work in the exhibition and by far most impressive is 20:50 by Richard Wilson. Located on the upper gallery floor, the visitors have to queue in order to enter the room. You will be able to smell the 20:50 before you see it – Wilson filled the room with used engine oil. The body of silver liquid has a mirror-like surface, which is split in the middle by a narrow, slightly sloping passage. With a combination of natural and artificial light the reflection in the liquid mirror gives an unsettling illusion of great highs (it reminded me of the movie Inception). Dating to 1987 this work, for obvious reasons, had to be recreated in a new venue. This brings up interesting questions, such as is this still the same artwork, or just a new version, how do you dismantle this type of ‘installation’ and move it to a new location without ‘destroying’ it?

Richard Wilson 20:50 (1987), Shape Shifters exhibition installation view (Photo: Ground Impressions)

Space Shifters is a very enjoyable and visually striking exhibition. Unlike more traditional artworks, this show is more about the experience of being there, rather than just looking at static paintings or sculptures. The works gathered here are not simply sitting in spaces, they transform the interiors. Minimalist or kinetic art might not appeal to everyone, some works are more engaging than others, but the 20:50 alone is definitely worth the trip to the gallery.


Space Shifters runs until 6 January 2019 at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London.



[1,2] exhibition brochure

Read more:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s