‘The universe of a collector’: Inside Lawrence Van Hagen’s latest exhibition

The endlessly energetic curator's latest 'What's Up' show is a pleasing mid-century-inflected triumph

The problem with owning minimalist mid-century mansions, I often find, is that you can’t simply fill them with IKEA furniture and your prep school 2nd XV rugby photos. No: they want to be decked out with handsome period pieces, statement art, good looking friends and very very nice chairs. Which is why it’s so pleasing that Lawrence Van Hagen’s annual ‘What’s Up’ exhibition has once again rolled into town, with its beguiling combination of emerging modern artists with towering blue chip names.

Tellingly, Van Hagen — a post-war and contemporary specialist with almost certainly the best hair in the capital — originally hoped to host this year’s foray in an actual house somewhere. But when an industrial-chic spot became available on the corner of Grosvenor Street, he decided to bring the mountain to mohammed, so to speak. (It seems to have worked — when I was there yesterday, five people attempted to walk in through the locked double doors to snag a chaise-longue, often dressed in gorgeous shades of charcoal.) 

The resulting exhibition — subtitled l’univers d’un collectionneur— aims to recreate an imagined collector’s salon, with an often unexpected pairing of functionable, sittable, covetable furniture, bold paintings and everyday objects. It feels softer, more approachable, and generally more cohesive than many exhibitions — you can almost smell the man who might inhabit this space, and hear the tinkle of his aperitif.

“Funnily enough I had people coming in yesterday, and for the first time they seemed more interested in the design than the art,” Van Hagen says, and the eye is certainly first drawn by a polished wood desk and cane-backed brazilian chairs, from which one could probably right a quite brilliant novella. Above these sits a dominating black and white charcoal piece by Robert Longo of a glittering, cresting wave, while a minimalist Sol Lewitt sculpture sprawls across the floor. But as you walk around the space, the smaller, quieter details make themselves heard, too — fine, understated ceramics; a selection of Poppy Jones watercolours on silk and suede canvases. As we stroll around, Van Hagen peppers his speech with a refrain of ‘very cool, huh?’. Chic, laidback and inviting, that might well have been the subtitle for this brilliant new collection. 

What’s Up/ l’univers d’un collectioneur runs from October 11th to November 6th at 80 Grosvenor Street, London, W1K 3JX

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