Monday, May 21, 2012

Daniel Buren, Excentrique(s) Travail In Situ, Grand Palais

Self Portrait in a mirrored circle under the cupola

The Sun arrives in Paris

 I have never really understood the excitement over Daniel Buren’s stripes. I like the pillars in the Palais Royale because they break up the weight of tradition. And I love their accessibility: my students enjoyed jumping from one to the next when I took them on a walk from the Comédie Française up to the arcades. Beyond the fun factor, I am not convinced there is so much more to say about Buren’s stripes.
footprints on a mirror made to look beautiful

Natural Light as the sun sets in the West
Daniel Buren has taken up the invitation to fill the space of the Grand Palais for its annual Monumenta event with Excentrique(s) Travails in situ. A sea of colored Perspex circles are placed on wooden supports like umbrellas at the beach on a hot summer’s day, touching each other, holding in the warmth and reflecting light in the color of their invention. At about ten feet in height, depending on the sun, the colored spheres reflect, absorb, capture and filter the light as it streams through the latticed iron ceiling and roof of the Grand Palais’s nave. In the middle, under the great dome, Buren has filled the dome with a checquered blue glass and placed a series of mirrors on which the public are encouraged to walk at ground level. It’s a colorful and joy-filled experience, but not one that invites serious contemplation. As you can see from my photos Excentrique(s) Travails in situ is at its best through the camera lens.

Reflections on the underside of the circles

The materials of Buren’s installation are cheap, ephemeral, to the point where nothing exists once the exhibition is taken down. This apparently makes it like land art in that it has no existence without its environment. But to call Buren’s Excentrique(s) Travail in situ land art would be overstating the case. Typically, land art redefines and articulates the landscape such that it will never be the same again. I can’t imagine how the same could be said of Buren’s colored circles. The materials will be thrown in a skip and that will be the end of it. And, unlike the transformation of our whole thinking of the Grand Palais that was enabled by Serra’s Promenade, I can’t imagine looking at the Grand Palais through post-Buren eyes.

There was one perspective – on film in the café inside the installation – from above. The camera looked up the length of the nave, and down onto the colored perspex giving the impression of a floor covered by a carpet of lilypads. Unfortunately, visitors were not allowed to see this perspective as the stairs leading to the viewing balcony were closed. So while it may be that different perspectives of Excentrique(s) Travail in situ create different installations, I was disappointed not to be able to discover these different perspectives and thus, different dimensions to Buren’s work. 
The view on leaving the Grand Palais
And so, I have to admit that I found this year’s Monumenta to be disappointing; I came away wondering when they are going to invite a woman to fill this magnificent space. I will however probably go back to Buren's installation for two reasons. First, the coffee in the café inside the installation is excellent, and second, there’s a peaceful calm that fills the Grand Palais that never ceases to draw me back again and again. To be sure, this isn’t thanks to Excentrique(s) Travail in situ, rather it is a feature of the structure iteslf. I spent three and a half hours in the café, just enjoying the stillness and the energy of an urban structure that feels so removed from the freneticism of the city outside. Whatever else Buren does or doesn’t do, he manages to set the stage for one of Paris’ greatest places to sit and be.  

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