Etiquette-free and totally disorganised party "planning" made the opening of Gehry’s Hyde Park pavilion as chaotic as the deliberately deconstructivist building itself
The “private” opening of Frank Gehry’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion last night was anything but.
A queue of around 400 people snaked out of the entrance in Hyde Park and a quarter of a mile down the road. The line of people comprised an odd collection of characters – a mix of suited and booted trendy types who had clearly just dashed out of the office, young parents with toddlers on tricycles in tow, and tourists clutching cameras looking around and clearly not sure exactly what they were even queuing for.
Up at the front of the line all hell was breaking loose. Burly security guards were battling with a sea of pinstripe and dark glasses as people desperately put their case forward for why they should be exempt from the strict “one in, one out” policy – at 7.15pm the venue was already at full capacity after a 7pm start, and those at the back of the queue looked unlikely ever to get in.
It soon became clear what the problem was. Those who had invitations to the event were required to stand in the same queue as those who did not. These included people who had just turned up on a whim or who happened to be passing. The fact that some guests had obviously been specifically targeted and asked to attend was, apparently, of no consequence. And the whole “Make sure you bring this invitation with you” note at the bottom of the card seemed like a little extra kick in the teeth for those who had duly done so.
Indeed, as people desperately tried to be heard over the din of screaming kids, the mood at the entrance to the pavilion was sour. “Why have I been sent an invitation if it doesn’t ensure admittance?” asked one guest. “I have raced across London to get here because I was invited, and now I have to queue with people who have not been invited, to maybe or maybe not even get in,” said another. Overhearing these comments, I thought they were absolutely fair enough. But the reaction of the security guards was so aggressive that most invite-holders were giving up and leaving there and then.
I have to say that I was there at the front of that queue with the rest of them. I don’t play this card often, but I was on the opposite side of London from home and had travelled at breakneck speed from Blackfriars to get to the event on time, so, clutching my now totally redundant invite, I explained that I was press. Nicely. “Was there a separate queue for press, by any chance?” No, there wasn’t.
It turned out that covering this event would require a two-hour wait and that was something I wasn’t really in the mood for. I was about to leave when a press officer eventually came to the gate and let me in, to much tutting and complaining from those standing in the queue behind me.
I thought my mood would lift once I was inside. But the pavilion was packed out to an uncomfortable degree and the organisation inside was about as efficient as the guest management on the door. There was no room to breathe and half the crowd was smoking, despite the structure being made largely out of wood. Frank Gehry himself was not in attendance and the speeches kicked off with a plea that anyone who had already had enough kindly leave. “You’ll see from the queue how many people are trying to get in, so no one will be offended if you want to just go now,” said the director of the gallery to a pretty unimpressed crowd.
Having succeeded in generating bad feeling on the inside and outside of the pavilion, it seems the gallery would have done well to read up on basic etiquette before putting on a party. It is unwise and most inflammatory to tell guests you “request the pleasure of your company” if you then deny them entry to the event. Rudely. Even worse is to tell those who have just made it past the pit bulls on the door that it would be great if they could leave now, please, as you’ve messed up your admittance system. It is also not good sense to describe the event as “private” only to open it up to the general public at large and not discriminate between those who have invitations and those who do not.
All in all, the poor planning was a great shame as what could have been a beautiful summer’s evening turned out to be as much as a washout as the press opening two weeks ago. And it wasn’t even raining.