ARC / Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris and palais de Tokyo, Paris, France
I was never really taken with the American prime-time soap opera Dynasty (1981–9), with its oil tycoon Blake, his sweet suffering Krystal and bitchy ex-wife Alexis. When the series was broadcast, the majority of the 48 artists in this eponymous exhibition were small children, and I’m not even sure how culturally meaningful the series was to the French. This Parisian interpretation of Dynasty, which spotlighted both French and foreign artists based in France, resulted from an unprecedented collaboration between two presumed-to-be-rival institutions: ARC/Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris (MAMVP) and the Palais de Tokyo. The museum and the art centre share real estate, but not budgets; they assert their distinct identities in opposite wings of the same historic edifice, built for the 1937 International Exhibition of Arts and Technology. The title of their joint effort is obviously tongue-in-cheek, and is meant to lampoon the notion of a French artistic (and institutional?) dynasty. But the satire wore thin pretty quickly, when it turned out there were no amusing catfights or entertaining cliff-hangers to tease us through this sprawling and massively uneven show.
‘Dynasty’ was organized across both sites so as to produce a mirroring or stereoscopic effect; each artist or artistic couple (there were half a dozen of those) proposed a work or several works for display in each institution. The Palais de Tokyo and the MAMVP took no risks: they placed the same, more firmly established artists in the foreground. At either site, one first encountered Oscar Tuazon’s rough-hewn sculpture/architectural interventions (Kodiac, 2008, and On a Bouldered Crescent, 2009); Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel’s outlandishly-sized, Peruvian-inspired tapestry (Mammoth and Poodle, 2009) and a monument to an unknown fisherman (Waders, 2010); black and white collage installations by Alexandre Singh (Assembly Instructions [Manzoni, Klein, et. Al], 2008); and Benoît Maire’s text-image compendia in vitrines (Esthétique des différends, point 4 [Aesthetic of Disputes, point 4], 2010).
Architecture played a starring role in the exhibition – the floor plans of the two buildings are similar, but not identical, and all of the works felt tame by comparison in the more conventional spaces of the MAMVP. Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler’s curatorial upper hand was spectacularly in evidence in his opening gambit. Nobody knows better than Wahler what works in that wing’s gutted and curved main space, though the combination of this art and that curator made for a less rock-n-roll and more tastefully grey and surprisingly lacklustre combination here. At first I wondered what such dreariness might indicate about so-called young art in France, but as I forged on through both sites it became clear that the kindest thing one can say about most of the work in ‘Dynasty’ is that it is terribly earnest and colourfully high-spirited.
Otherwise, there was an awful lot of déjà-vu, both aesthetically and referentially, especially in the illustration-influenced paintings of Farah Atassi (Transitional Home 2, 2010) and Raphaëlle Ricol (Spider et Goldorak/Spider and Goldorak, 2009). Whether that’s an effect of the exhibition’s timing, of the educations many of these young artists acquired in France, or of misplaced emulation remains to be seen. The artistic proclivity for archives, genealogy, archaeology, scientific or quasi-scientific research, and for flaunting of intellectual erudition shows no signs of abating (there is a text to be written about French art historian Georges Didi-Huberman’s impact on an entire generation of artists and curators). The most productively anachronistic ‘site-specific’ project dealing with such themes was Louise Hervé and Chloe Maillet’s L’homme le plus fort du monde (The Strongest Man on Earth, 2010) – drawings of kitschy movie posters projected via magic lantern or retro-projector, that linked the neo-classical building to ‘sword and sandal’ films, and therefore to the Palais de Tokyo’s previous functions as cinema and state film school. Julien Dubuisson tackled archaeology from another angle, with his Visite extérieure d’une grotte (Exterior Visit of a Cave, 2010), an impressive seven-metre-long, three-dimensional model of the interior of a cave.
Robin Meier and Ali Momeni’s Truce: Strategies for Post-Apocalyptic Computation (2009) mingles art, science and sound. Black cords suspended vintage bulbs over a metal contraption, which held a magnifying glass, clamps, wires, a small speaker and a live male mosquito, whose image was projected on the wall behind. The mosquito apparently confuses the traditional North Indian music playing in the space with the sound of a female mosquito and adjusts its buzz accordingly. Perception lapses into vibration as you pass through the installation. But my favourite work, which stood out from the mass as a genre unto itself, was Gabriel Abrantes and Benjamin Crotty’s Visionary Iraq (2009), a soap opera-style film about a brother and adopted sister who have a sexual relationship with each other and volunteer to fight in Iraq, where their father has suspicious business dealings. Abrantes and Crotty play all of the roles, deadpan, in this laugh-out-loud, take-no-prisoners spoof on idealism, corruption and family values, illustrated by television shows like Dynasty. Unfortunately, even these highlights of ‘Dynasty’ could not disabuse me of my scepticism regarding the value of such exhaustive, and exhausting, attempts to synthesize the French scene.
First published in Issue 135