Review: The Serving Library at Bluecoat

bluecoat serving library

The Serving Library – Stuart Bailey, Angie Keefer and David Reinfurt
Bluecoat. Saturday 10 October 2015 – Sunday 10 January 2016

Words and photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith

The Serving Library is the strange left-over of RESOURCE at Bluecoat. The sprout at the end of dinner. I tried sprouts last weekend though, and it turns out I was wrong. They’re really lovely with proper gravy. I’m not sure what, if anything, that infers, but there is definitely something about The Serving Library that will not appeal to everyone. It’s a room full of prints, floor to ceiling, some books and some tables, and even when you get into it, it’s a VERY egotistical project. Sounds quite off putting really. But.

But it does everything it has to. It is a righteous display of literature, and of the work of those who sought to change literature and/or how we view it. From Derrida to Disney, and parodies of each, the works on the wall are conversation starters and finishers, and they had the generosity to give us a huge table to converse over. It is an exhibition that wants us to find our own conclusions, and gives us just enough new material to do that.

The largest framed piece – another lovely aside to this exhibition, contributing new pedestals to pages usually confined to darkness between the covers of a book – is a page from Marcel Broodthaers’ wonderful Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard, displayed next to its counterpart in crime; Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem of the same title (a poem which has been stated to have been the summative entrance of modern art). These two works, rightly displayed side by side, sum up this exhibition and its objective perfectly. It is a display of what all art seeks to be, through the process of the artist; a process that never ceases to mirror the process and desire of the author; to create something new.

It is absolutely beautiful, and I’m almost ashamed to say I just wandered up there by mistake on a visit to Glasshouse my first time there. I’ve got certain prejudices towards the questions they want me to be asking, so the second time I visited I took the chance to take myself and some Levi-Strauss and just had a read (which felt a little wrong sat in front of Derrida’s hallowed name, but these things happen to the best of us).


It’s also part of something bigger, which asks questions more directly. And in turn, was part of another exhibition to begin with. The choice to leave The Serving Library in place was an utterly fantastic one, and has allowed for far more exposure of these ideas, and these conversation points which underpin our knowledge of language and of creative presentation, to a public that rarely gets the chance to ask the questions for themselves. And that question, repeatedly asked by the group behind this installation, is what underpins their work. It holds their website together and maintains intrigue. It wins fans through its honest presentation of everything that is usually hidden by the artist, and I’m definitely one of them.

But, if, unlike me, you’re not interested in any of that stuff, it’s a really lovely room to have a chat about other things. It’s a rare oasis of peace and quiet in a very busy city centre, which not many people seem to have cottoned on to. I’ve spent about an hour and half in there, and not once been disturbed. So, take a book, take a flask, take a friend and see if you can make your day something it usually isn’t: considered.

bluecoat serving library bluecoat serving library