Friday, September 12, 2014

Une Histoire: Des Années 1980 à Nos Jours au Centre Pompidou

Olafur Eliasson, Cold Wind Sphere, 2012
When the Centre Pompidou changes the display of the permanent collection, it's an occasion. And the new curation of the permanent collection is just that: a treat to be savored. The hanging follows on, chronologically and within the space of the museum, from the issues and concerns of the Magiciens de la Terre redux. Even though it isn’t made obvious enough, the collection presents post-1980s art that follows the themes begun by the original Magiciens de la Terre in 1989.
Walid Raad, Hostage: The Bachar Tapes Souheil Bachar, 2001
In some of the early rooms of the new hanging, visitors are introduced to single works by artists from the world’s most troubled post-1989 regions. Works from the Middle East, Serbia, Albania, and of course, Israel and Palestine are captivating for what they show as much as what they do not show.  To my own surprise I really enjoyed Walid Raad’s video, Hostage: The Bachar Tapes Souheil Bachar, 2001. I was surprised because I have never seen what the fuss around Raad’s work was all about. Hostage tells the story of the low-level Lebanese worker from the Kuwaiti embassy in Beirut who was held with the American hostages caught in the crossfire over the Iran-contra affair during the second Reagan administration. Raad re-presents Souheil Bachar’s video tapes #1, #17 and #31 in which he tells the shocking narrative of the Americans who wanted him to fuck them. In a female voiceover that overlays animated images of the hostages, Bachar remembers the American’s obsession with their own bodily hygiene and their disgust at his. And yet, they could not stop touching him. One night he even felt one of the American’s press his body so close that he felt his erection. The narrative is shocking, not because we hear anything we didn’t already know, but because Bachar’s story, as it is represented by Raad, reduces this public political event to a private struggle of the Americans with their own bodies.
Maja Bajevic, Women at Work (Under Construction) In Construction, 1999
The works in these early rooms that reuse the archival were exceptionally compelling: Maja Bajevic’s Women at Work (Under Construction) In Construction, 1999 was wonderful. Bajevic stages women war refugees embroidering the scrim that protects scaffolding while the National Gallery in Sarajevo was being renovated. On the one hand, it’s a very familiar use of women’s work to re-articulate a public and political space, and on the other hand, as a form of memorial to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovnia, it’s an innovative and powerful challenge to social change. Chris Marker’s Detour Ceausescu, 1990 in which he uses the footage from the Romanian revolution that we know from Farocki and Ujica’s Videogramme of a Revolution, or Thomas Hirschhorn’s Outgrowth, 2005, are very powerful critiques of state violence. Hirschhorn’s familiar anti-aesthetic  is both amusing and disturbing in Outgrowth: globes on shelves have growths covered in masking tapes, as though they have contracted some kind of virulent disease. Taped to the shelves on which they sit are these magazine pictures of disasters, state violence and war. The message is clear.
Thomas Hirschhorn, Outgrowth, 2005
Other political works of art, especially those that engage with the world and make us look at it in different ways were also extremely powerful. I sat through Tony Oursler’s New York 9/11 as he captures the events unfolding and the responses of New Yorkers in the days that followed. As his camera moves in and around ground zero and the streets of New York City, I was deeply moved by a city coming to terms with this great disaster. Even though the hand held camera and other aspects of the aesthetic might be otherwise alienating, I was transported back into the confusion of those days following September 11, 2001. An interesting contribution from Amar Kanwar on the ecological fallout as a result of industrial developments in India: The Scene of the Crime, 2011 was also moving, though it unfolded in a slower, more subtle and almost invisible way, just like the disaster it documents.

Amar Kanwar, The Scene of the Crime, 2005
Works that were not as directly political are also in abundance, even though I did not spend as much time with them. There were rooms filled with experimental art, post-minimalist works by Daniel Buren, Steven Parrino’s Necropolis (the Lucifer Crank) for Anger, 2004 – a post-avant garde, post-structuralist film. An absolutely divine piece by Olafur Eliasson, Cold Wind Sphere, 2012, in which light creates space, memory and a world of its own. There were also works from the collection with which I was not previously familiar, and was inspired to see more: Alain Bublex’s Plug-In City, 2000, being one example.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Magiciens de la Terre - Revisited. Centre Pompidou

If I had known what I was going to see at Magiciens de la Terre: A Look Back at a Legendary Exhibition, I wouldn’t have gone. It sounds so dull to visit an exhibition that documents an exhibition staged in the same space twenty-five years ago. And what might make it even more tedious is that we don’t get to see the works themselves, but photographic and video representations of the works and their exhibition at the Centre Pompidou and the Grand Hall at La Villette in 1989.  But, maybe because of my age, or my interest in the political potential and value of art, or maybe because I was simply looking for a nice distraction on Friday night, I loved it!

Magiciens de la Terre: Retour sur une exposition légendaire
 exhibition view
I was travelling around India when the original Magiciens de la Terre was staged, as the Berlin Wall fell in some distant far away land that a few months earlier had been the center of my world. Events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eruption of student protests in Tiananman Square a few months earlier really did change the world. Most notably, the whole notion of “the West” changed with the erasure of the Iron Curtain.

Even though it could have been lost in among the political turmoil of 1989, I vividly remember the excitement generated by Magiciens de la Terre when I studied art history the following year at Melbourne University. This was an exhibition said to change the course of art history. There are a lot of exhibitions that claim they will do this, but as we know, it’s really only 25 years later that we can look back and tell how few exhibitions determine the impact of anything in their wake. Magiciens de la Terre was one of the few that did revolutionize.
Magiciens de la Terre: Retour sur une exposition légendaire
 exhibition view
Magiciens de la Terre, a hommage to the original, provoked me to reflect back on the difference between art production, exhibition and understanding then and now. Even though they were poster-type photographic reproductions of artworks from the original exhibition, I recognized the impact they had on the way art is made, the way we think about it, write about it and determine its value. It seems like yesterday, but 25 years ago our whole notion of global art in the museum was all but non-existent. And now, 25 years later, non-Western art not only influences, but is fully integrated into the art world.

Richard Lon, Red Earth Circle, 1989
Yuendumu Community, Yam Dressing, 1989
La Villette
Magiciens de la Terre brought to public attention, for example, how the motivation of non-Western art is so different. For the Australian aborigines, for example, art belongs in their rituals, it tells their history, is like a letter written from one generation to the next on the wall of a cave, on the body, with a stick in the dirt. In the exhibition there were people who used art for healing, for medicinal purposes, for masks, for religious ceremonies.  Likewise, it is made to be seen from above, to be walked on, to be used as a cultish item. Then and now, these different uses of art open up our world, they enable us to see how small the West's conception of art is both before and after the Magiciens de la Terre.

The videos on display at the Centre Pompidou reminded me that the original exhibition was also about the creation of a community of artists; it was so much more than simply exhibiting the work. Some artists were invited to Paris—especially those from Asia, Aboriginal Australians, Africans—to make their art at La Villette. One of the most touching moments in a video of the original exhibition is when three Tibetan monks go to the Eiffel tower as tourists, having finished their ephemeral mandala. In their quiet gentle way, the monks strike up conversation with some African children. This meeting of two worlds at the Eiffel Tower was somehow illustrative of the exhibition itself: different cultures coming together, peacefully, to be together, included. There is no such thing as anger or resentment or aggression of any kind in any of the works on display, in contradistinction to the turmoil and upheavals earlier in the year 1989.

Une affiche de Barbara Kruger dans l'exposition "Les Magiciens de la Terre", en 1989.
Barbara Kruger, Who are the Magicians of the Earth?, 1989.
I was surprised to see so many different Western artists who have some influence, engagement, or interest in non-Western art included and not differentiated for their Westerness: Juan Munoz, Marina Abramovic, Ulay, Robert Longo, Rebecca Horn, Barbara Kruger, Anselm Kiefer were some of the names whose work was claimed to be relevant to the development of non-Western art. While I understand why works by these artists are included, I wondered if it distracted from the urgency of bringing other, lesser known artists into the spotlight? I can't imagine that this was not a topic of discussion at the time.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sèvres Outdoors

La Manufacture en 1813
Cité de la Céramique à Sèvres, 1740
I enjoy being in Paris in August, when the Parisians are gone to their destinations by the seaside, and every storefront in my street has a hastily written sign in the window with the dates of their vacation. If there is one drawback about being in Paris in August it is that I sometimes run out entertainment. Not being a fan of Paris’ tourist traps and hooked into a world that follows the same season as every other Parisian business and shop, pickings get slim in August. But as often happens, I made a new discovery.
Laurent Le Deunff, Totems, 2007
At the suggestion of Time Out Paris for Londoners, on Sunday, I got on the bike and rode the 20k out to Sèvres where about 30 galleries have taken up space in the gardens of the Cité de la Céramique. The museum is attached to the famous Sèvres porcelain factory, up the road (conveniently) from Madame de Pompadour’s Bellevue Palace. The magnificent 18th century buildings were constructed at the instruction of Louis XV to house the largest manufacturer of porcelain in Europe. The whole site has that industrial feel to it, even though the making of porcelain doesn’t require big chimneys and oversized machinery. It’s a strange place, nestled in the not so showcase world of beyond the péripherique Paris.
Jochen Dehn, Freedom is Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose, 2014
In the gardens, the contemporary sculptures that were not made as outdoor installations feel completely at home. A wooden piano by Jochen Dehn ('Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose', 2014) looks so much integrated into the foliage, and lichen-covered tree behind that it is difficult to believe it has ever lived anywhere else. There is a peace and an eeriness to this relatively small sculpture garden, but it is still and mysterious, in a way that a landscape transformed by art should be. Once inside the garden I felt submerged in a timeless world of art and nature.
Ernesto Sartori, Une Multiplication, 2014
Some of the works fit perfectly into the environment, others such as a Japanese style capsule hotel bed, seem very out of place. [Atelier Van Lieshout, 'Dynamo Capsule Hotel', 2010)] A Jimmie Durham piece, “Thinking of You” was Durham’s usual fun and games as a bronze bird sat atop a high perch. “Une Multiplication,” by Ernesto Sartori sits quietly outside one of the old factory buildings. Everything about it is unnatural and artificial and yet its cobalt blue blends in so nicely with the still air of a factory not in operation on a still, late summer afternoon.
Markus Lüpertz, Herkules Entwurfsmodell 11, 2010
As visitors enter the grounds of the ceramics museum we are greeted by two of the cast iron Hercules figures by Markus Lüpertz. They are bright and colourful, confronting and disturbing, the one with his leg broken off, the other without an arm. Their faces distorted, these are the victims of a world that distorts and destroys. But like much sculpture in this kind of environment, their evocation of quite reflection and stillness made them haunting, at peace.  They are true heroes, contradictory in nature.
Across the Seine to Sèvres

As I looked across at Sèvres from the other side of the Seine on my way home, I was reminded of how much a showcase central Paris really is. People always talk about how beautiful Paris is, and it is, but it’s also good to leave now and then to be reminded that the minute you venture outside of the centre, it’s a rather ordinary place. The detritus and decay of an industrial era looks very similar to its counterparts elsewhere in Europe. Sèvres is a small oasis in the middle of a not always attractive neighborhood. For that, it is a jewell in Louis XV’s crown, well worth a visit.