Lyon Biennale

Various Venues

The seventh Lyon Biennale takes its title, 'C'est Arrivé Demain' (It Happened Tomorrow), from a 1944 film by René Clair. In the movie, every morning a journalist is inexplicably delivered the following day's newspaper, a stitch in time that allows him to scoop his peers until - finally, fatefully - he spots his own picture on the obituary page.

As biennale names go (and they can go very, very badly) 'C'est Arrivé Demain' is good. Gently humourous, it hints at the paradox at the heart of the predictive model of exposition-making - 'what if?' scenarios, which, by their very nature, shape what is to come. Featuring over 50 artists, the Lyon Biennale - curated by Robert Nickas, Anne Pontégnie, Eric Troncy, Xavier Doroux and Frank Gautherot of Dijon-based Le Consortium - doesn't so much posit an alternative as ask a question: 'If the future is programmed, can we stop it from happening?' The answer, strangely enough, is in the promotional poster, designed by M/M Paris. Here the words 'C'est Arrivé' appear in the same typeface as the title of Robert Zemeckis' film Back To the Future (1985), in which Michael J. Fox time-travels from the 1980s to the 1950s, bringing his parents together, 'inventing' Rock 'n' Roll and unwittingly making his own tomorrow a brighter place. The Lyon Biennale's curators adopt a similar strategy, revisiting the art of the (mostly recent) past in order, they hope, to save the future from itself.

The ground floor of La Sucrière, the biennale's largest venue, resembles a son et lumière orchestrated in a sublime, broken heaven. Near the entrance two vast orange Olivier Mosset canvases eyeball each other across a blank space. Caught between them, the viewer's face is bathed in a tangerine glow. Carsten Höller's nearby Neon Circle (2001) enhances this effect, its sputtering white strip-lights lending Mosset's pigment a hot, matchstick phosphorescence. Past the snaily genitalia of Betty Tompkins' beautiful 'Fuck Paintings' (1971-4), Claude Lévêque's Valstar Barbie (2003) occupies the floor's final, rather grotty room. The windows have been lined with pink plastic, the pillars ringed with pink light bulbs, and two of the walls wear thin, fabric skirts. Swelling music plays, and a series of desktop fans churn the cloth like it's a thick, raspberry milkshake. A study in economy, it's a wonderful piece, supporting Le Consortium's assertion that art is 'not transversal, not mediatory, but a language in its own right'.

Elsewhere in La Sucrière, Trisha Donnelly's video Untitled (Jump) (1999) reinterprets Pete Townshend's stage antics as a kind of Pilates, and Didier Marcel's installation Classique (2003) casts a Lynchian spell. Here revolving corduroy firs flank an anonymous Citroën, their slow grind suggesting the ordinariness of roadside tears. A few rooms away the photographer and filmmaker Larry Clark is treated to a mini-retrospective - La Sucrière's only bum note. In contrast to other well-known works in the show (including sculptures by Franz West and Martin Boyce), Clark's pervy-uncle images of adolescents seem both flabby and long ago absorbed. Their only purpose, here, is to sound a pointless note of (non-)transgression.

At the Musée d'Art Contemporain the biennale's curators take a more robust approach to art's restaging. Widely shown last year, Pierre Huyghe's Untitled (Light Show) (2002) - a lamp-rigged music box made with entertaining penguins in mind - is here surrounded by an Antarctica of polystyrene slabs. It's a neat nod to how a work's meaning becomes clearer with its every showing, and a superb counterpoint to Xavier Veilhan's Hyperrealist Project (2003), a pitch-black chamber in which paintings by Richard Estes and Robert Bechtle seem to float, their pin-sharp 1970s Photorealism sundered from history and the sensible world. Two floors below Veilhan's Oubliette, the bauble- and trident-studded wall of Robert Grosvenor's Untitled (1997) attests to Le Consortium's belief that 'certain recent works by artists who have long been on the scene are at least as relevant as those of new arrivals'. They are, I suspect, right - if you're looking for daffy sculptural intuition, Grosvenor beats Gary Webb (on show at La Sucrière) into an oddly cocked hat.

Despite some unpredictable disappointments (notably new films by Rodney Graham and Philippe Parreno, at the Institut d'Art Contemporain), the Lyon Biennale is a success - largely because it allows art to breathe, refusing to predict its future or parade it under a glib political banner as though it were not art at all but (to paraphrase the poet John Ashbery), an ambulance speeding to our rescue. Le Consortium's exposition demands a different vehicular analogy: Michael J. Fox's gull-winged DeLorean time machine.

Tom Morton is a writer, independent curator and contributing editor for frieze, based in Rochester, UK.

Issue 79

First published in Issue 79

Nov - Dec 2003

Most Read

In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018