Nick Hackworth

Universal Experience: Art, Life and the Tourist's Eye, Hayward Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Although tourism is now the largest industry in the world, the psychological effects of mass-market travel remain relatively unexplored. In its oblique fashion, Universal Experience, a group show of 50 international artists including Maurizio Cattelan, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Jeff Koons, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Warhol, attempts to examine this curious world of desire, expectation and experience.

Like all such thematic shows, Universal Experience is flawed. Art curators are allergic to didactic, sociological displays and so tend to be dangerously loose in their interpretations of the theme. Many works here are only tangentially related to travel.

Despite exuding a Gap advert-style naffness, Doug Aitken’s high-tech, multi-screen video installation about parallel lives in an apartment block is visually stunning. An experience of a different sort is offered by über-trendy Swiss artist Thomas Hirschorn’s lo-fi, walk-in installation, which mourns the looting of Iraq’s museums. Most contemporary political art is pompous and deluded, but Hirschorn goes one better by being incredibly tasteless as well, juxtaposing hardcore porn with news footage of dead victims of war.

Happily, the show is good enough to absorb such lapses of quality. The most effective works about the tourist experience highlight the layers of unreality and expectation in which the whole business of travel is wrapped.

Oliver Barbieri shows a video of Rome, shot from the sky through a lens that makes everything look like a model.

Fischli and Weiss display a 90ft light table showing travel images, mundane and beautiful, taken over the past 15 years: a simple reminder of the speed with which we’ve ransacked all the natural world has to offer. Which leads to the one of show’s points: that art galleries may be the only places left where we can travel to experience different sensations, thoughts and feelings.

Notwithstanding its lack of originality many, however, may wish to stick with the tried-and-tested combination of a sandy beach and a large cocktail.

Until 11 December. Information: 020 7921 0813.