Museums, as objects, are here to tell us about an elsewhere that we don’t know, in order to educate us and provide us with rational, learned, Cartesian discourses —especially ethnographic, archeological and natural history museums. Of course, this is set in a model that structures our society and outlook. The same artifacts won’t relay the same discourse whether they are displayed in a “cabinet of curiosities,” a colonial museum, an antiques shop, a flea market or the Quai Branly museum. Our ideology in showing and exhibiting imposes itself on the artifact and our gaze has to conform to it. Sure, we can choose to be docile, because we are respectful, conformist, and learning; or we can choose to be skeptical and reluctant when faced with, for example, the national narrative of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, the racialist phrenology of colonial exhibitions, or falsified colonizing archeology in Moshe Dayan’s style. However, we always remain within this rational logic, consuming meaning and context.
Lisbon’s Museo do Chiado has put forward an interesting initiative: under the title “Avant-garde and neo-avant-garde” (June 17, 2016 – June 17, 2017), it has elected to display the 20th– and 21st-century artworks of its collection, despite being almost exclusively known for its 19th-century pieces. However, at the risk of provoking my Portuguese friends’ outcries, I will say I was deeply bored visiting the rooms leading up to 1965. Not that I am not interested in movements like Futurism, Cubism, Surrealism or abstract art —far from it. But at the Chiado I saw mere adaptations, variations, imitations. I looked in vain for some unsettling, stimulating instances of creativity, only encountering earnest, well-rounded artworks that might have encapsulated what each of these movements were about, but that never really stood out on their own. (In the adjacent rooms, there is a dithyrambic exhibition on Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, “greatest artist of the century,” a hidden gem finally revealed —like at the Grand Palais, I couldn’t appreciate it without taking into account the historical and cultural context.) Is this informed by Parisianocentric disdain for provincial follow-the-leader endeavors? Maybe, but then again I don’t have the same feeling of déjà-vu in front of Italian artists of this era, for instance.
In Inhotim, I still had artworks to see, the more classical ones maybe or, in any case, those whose scenography felt less pompous. First, a superb polyptych by William Kentridge on eight screens, addressing the end of Constructivism, stifled by Stalin. Except for one screen devoted to text (the 1937 Central Committee’s deliberation expelling Bukharin from the party), Kentridge’s tried-and-true style is on display here. But what is featured? Nicolas Gogol’s nose – that other characters sometimes use as a mask –, a horse (“I am not me, the horse is not mine”), a Monument to the Third International that was never completed… And a dancing Red Army soldier, but only his shadow is visible – everything is an illusion. It would have been nice also to be able to watch the performance/speech [pdf] Kentridge gave to complement the installation.
I don’t know if Tunga –who was apparently at the inception of Inhotim, having advised Bernardo Paz to create a museum– is “the best” artist here, and this kind of rankings are never very interesting: nevertheless, I felt that his two pavilions stand above the rest. The main one is a large structure, open on the forest, with a dozen oversized red hammocks connecting the building with the trees. In a central vault, one of Tunga’s films is on view; everything else is bathed by daylight, animated by a soft breeze, or entertained by a few raindrops. The superb installation that I saw at the Louvre eleven years ago is here, staging a confrontation of two worlds, accompanied by several works inspired by organic fluids (sometimes reminiscent of Chen Zhen’s artworks), such as Frascos expandidos from 2009 (featured below). Continue reading
Suddenly, the asphalt feels softer under the wheels, the road seems much better, and the annoying lombadas have disappeared (“speed bumps” in Brazilian Portuguese). Suddenly, there are no more half-built, half-derelict houses, no more chaotic city plans and anarchic urban design, no more posters for fortune tellers or Evangelical churches, no more kids running everywhere. Suddenly –once you pass the armed guards at the entrance–, you find yourself in another Brazil, without chaos, poverty, disorder or corruption (well, almost). Like in Baudelaire’s poem, in this rich, calm, serene Brazil –the opposite of the actual Brazil, of everyday Brazil–, it is nothing but “ordre et beauté, luxe, calme et volupté.” Welcome to Inhotim! First and foremost a huge garden of 2000ha in the middle of Brazil (the French daily Libération titled its review “Collection d’hectares contemporains”, a play on “art contemporain”), Inhotim is the largest open-air museum of the American continent, if not the world, with several buildings harboring artworks and plenty of outdoor sculptures and installations. It is also the realization of Bernardo Paz’s megalomaniac dream; the infamous self-taught straight-talking businessman, who earned his fortune through the intensive exploitation of the region’s mines, has declared, however: “I have no passion for art, but I love gardens,” and “I do not understand art, I do not understand Picasso.”
The current MAMVP exhibition, curated by Jan Dibbets, is based on the artist’s idiosyncratic conception of photography; alternatively, “The Memory of the Future”, presented at the Musée de l’Élysée in Lausanne (May 25 – August 28, 2016) and curated by its new director, Tatyana Franck, grew out of a meticulous study of the museum’s artistic and technical collections. This difference in perspective can be read in the exhibitions’ titles: Dibbets’ “Pandora’s Box” is poetic and allusive, Franck’s “Memory of the Future” is more formal and, at the same time, paradoxical.
The latter is situated in the Musée de l’Élysée’s beautiful villa, which the institution will leave in a few years for a new and bold building designed by an extraordinary Portuguese agency, near Lausanne’s train station (cue the inveterate Parisian reactionary lamenters spewing their usual venom on the shores of Lake Geneva). With this move, the institution will be joining a new cultural platform (named only days before its inauguration).
“The Memory of the Future” starts off by revisiting ancient image-making techniques, creating a dialogue between vintage photographs unearthed from the reserves and artworks by contemporary artists exploring these techniques today. Contrary to Dibbets’ exhibition in Paris, the emphasis here is on the materiality of the image, its texture, its condition, its physicality… there is even a device created by a research lab enabling 3D renditions of photographs —an invention you would expect to see in relation to sculpture rather than photography. Continue reading
The initial shock of Eva Jospin’s installation in the Louvre’s Cour Carrée (April 12 – August 28, 2016) comes from its display. To discover its high reliefs, the visitor has to pass through several consecutive concentric enclosures to reach the center. First, the classical buildings of the Cour Carrée; next, a circular basin made of stone containing stagnant greenish water; then, set in this basin, a decagonal pavilion reflecting the Louvre facade on its walls – echo and mirror. (The glass Pyramid is not visible because of the obtuse angle towards it; obfuscating the Pyramid – another “grafted” structure – is definitely not fortuitous.) Continue reading