The grand re-opening of the Palais de Tokyo was greeted with such expectation that even Nicolas Sarkozy payed it a visit. In fact, judging by the length of the queue on the night of the 12th, it seemed the whole of Paris showed up.
This night, deemed “(Entre) Ouverture” was a thirty-hour-long intensive of non-stop performance, installation, and people-gawking. This ephemereal event, churning out performances and barely-there art objects, is in some way categorically opposed to what would come next – the heavy-handed “Le Triennale” project of curator Okwui Enwezor, which takes part across seven other locations, including the Grand Palais and Musée du Louvre, with its main presence at the Palais de Tokyo.
Both events have different visions, but one purpose is certain, to draw attention to the new presence of the Palais, and the political posturing that has been integral to the constant makeovers of this space.
The palais itself has seen many incarnations, from its humble start before 1826 as the Savonnerie carpet manufacturer, to its 1937 status as the “Palace Museum of Modern Art," the famed “Femis” film school, and then finally, only in 2002, was a section of the site, about 35% of it, made into the contemporary arts center we now know as the “Palais do Tokyo,” with the rest being vacant. This is its tenth anniversary, and presumably, the inauguration of the entire building as finally having a definite inhabitant.
It took ten months of work by the architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, who had already been part of the last restoration, to “complete” the building, which, at 22,000 square meters is now the largest contemporary art institute in Europe.
The imposing Palais has been under construction for some time, and it essentially remains so, as the majority of the artworks and performances that cycled through the (pre) opening night of the 12th and 13th were about as chaotic as its interior structure. Some odd fifty artists were invited to take part in the festivities, which were assembled to give the impression that they wanted to allow every kind of hot young artist out there a chance. But youthful energy does not always lend itself to being especially well thought out.
Added to this, while walking around the dusty and labyrinthine halls and staircases of this night's exhibit, workers and artists were steadily working on the installation of the noticeably cleaner center exhibition spaces, where Le Triennale would take place.
Art workers seen working on Le Triennale, from the Vernissage lounge; Photo by Peter Dobey
The best part of the initial evening was roaming around the new space. It is created to allow for the best accommodation of a variety of different works. Layed out around the sprawling four floors of the palace are a treasure-trove of spaces to be put to good use by artists. The top floor is sunbathed and bright, with standard white walls, perfect for more traditional mediums, the second and third floors are a combination of large, variously shaped cement halls and gigantic glass windows, appropriate for the conceptual installations the Palais has come to be known for. The bottom floor, which is by all definitions a musty, dark basement, comes in handy for film projections and more experiential, light-based mediums.
For me, the more noteworthy artworks were the ones that embraced the disheveled atmosphere of the building, while remaining grounded in a delicately autonomous fashion. Here are some examples.
Cécile Beau, "Subfaciem"; Photo by Peter Dobey
Many of the others pieces were much more loud, in the sense that they were youthful, colorful, messy, and boisterous, but also because many of them incorporated sound or music as their main vehicle of presentation. Some of them were simply obnoxious, and bordered between being mere entertainment and frat house antics, such as Lucas Abela’s obnoxious videogame-cum-installation Vinyl Rally, in which visitors took turns operating a remote control car from an racecar arcade machine, that roved around a track made of beer cartons and vinyl records.
Hajnal Nemeth, “Contrawork” ; Photo by Peter Dobey
More conceptually appropriate performances were two that lasted for all thirty hours -- the marathon rendition of Peter Handke’s play introspection, re-organized by the artist Gwenaël Morin, and Contrawork by Hajnal Nemeth, which involved an opera singer majestically describing the part-by-part process of the car mechanic next to him, disassembling a car over a span of twelve hours, with the song “Dark Green Citroen.”
The “(Entre) Ouverture” event did something important, in exposing the possibilities of the new Palais as a very fluid place, a space for possibilities. Its ephemeral nature and short, yet thirty-hour-long duration, was an exercise in chaos, and is perhaps meant as the genesis of a more lengthy investment in the French artistic scene, one with a longer duration than a day or two. As an exhibition in and of itself, it left much to desire. Yet, as many artists I spoke to remarked, this was an opening, like many openings, that served its main purpose as a social event, and in that it certainly succeeded.
(Image on top right: introspection, arranged by Gwenaël Morin; Photo by Peter Dobey)