Bulgari celebrates 75 years of Serpenti with immersive London exhibition

Bulgari partners with new-media artist Refik Anadol on a boundary-pushing exhibition at London's Saatchi Gallery to mark 75 years of its most iconic motif, the Serpenti

By Kim Parker

What’s the best way to mark a momentous anniversary? For Bulgari, it’s roughly an entire year of festivities to commemorate the 75th birthday of its most iconic collection, the Serpenti, in 2023.

The snakelike pieces first appeared in 1948, taking the form of a wraparound bracelet-watch crafted with the brand’s Tubogas chains (inspired by flexible gas pipes), and quickly achieved stellar status thanks to celebrity fans such as Elizabeth Taylor, who was photographed wearing her own diamond Serpenti bracelet on the set of Cleopatra in 1962.

Bulgari Serpenti
Benedetta Barzini wearing Bulgari Serpenti for US Vogue, 1968 (Photo by Gian Paolo Barbieri/Conde Nast)

In the decades since, Bulgari’s Serpenti has taken on many other forms, notably slithering across handbags and high-jewellery pieces. This winter, it will evolve once more, into the star of a multisensory exhibition – ‘Serpenti Metamorphosis’ – by the Italian house and Turkish American contemporary artist Refik Anadol, with the event kickstarting Bulgari’s celebratory ‘Year of the Snake’.

Refik Anadol
Refik Anadol

“Bulgari first reached out to me about working together during the pandemic, and I thought it was a really exciting idea, to create an artwork themed around the concept of metamorphosis,” says Anadol on the original exhibition, which debuted in the Piazza Duomo, in Milan, in 2021 and will now travel to the Saatchi Gallery, in London. “The snake has been an inspiration to mankind since ancient times, representing everything from health and power to eternity and change, and it’s that change I find really interesting. As a media artist, I see our relationship to technology changing every day. We’re completely surrounded by software, and I want to show how that can be used to create art, to lead us into a new kind of universe,” says Anadol.

Bulgari Serpenti
Gold Serpenti bracelet-watch with red and yellow enamel and rubies (c.1967)

To that end, Anadol, whose work explores “what it means to be a human” in the age of computers, has created an immersive “journey” for visitors, using his own proprietary AI software. More than 200 million images of nature (one of the largest assortments of data ever collected for an artwork) were scanned and collected by Anadol and his team, then fed into his AI programme to produce mesmerising, constantly shifting visuals that evoke the texture and movement of a snake. These captivating displays will be accompanied by sounds and smells, also created with AI technology (as well as Bulgari’s own library of fragrances), to mimic what it would feel like to encounter a serpent. Archival images and sketches from the house’s archives will also be on show, alongside an exclusive selection of Bulgari Serpenti jewels from the 1940s to the present day, all of which will come together to show the motif ’s various evolutions across the years.

Bulgari Serpenti
Serpenti bracelet-watches (c.1967) by Irving Penn

“I imagine that stepping into this show is like entering the mind of a serpent,” says Anadol, who hopes that the exhibition will go some way to demystify the processes behind AI, with the intention of reassuring visitors that it isn’t merely the stuff of nefarious cinematic villains. “I like to think of it as an extension of my mind. It’s a kind of thinking brush. Yes, it’s slightly different to the traditional tools used by an artist to create great beauty, but it’s still a tool,” Anadol says. “I see this show as an opportunity to open people’s minds.”

The artist is also keen for visitors to take home more than just a commemorative souvenir or two at the end of their visit to this imaginary digital landscape. “I hope that it’s able to trigger some feelings of positivity in the hearts and minds of everyone, because we all just need some positivity right now,” he says. “We need to be surrounded by beauty more than ever before, don’t we?”

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