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2013: Paris or London? Philippa Snow and James Loks with a Tale of Two Cities
by ArtSlant Team

Editor's Note: For our 2013 review, we tasked Philippa Snow, in London, and James Loks, in Paris, to discuss highs and lows, favourites and flops, and whether London or Paris had the best year. Their conversation, unedited, is presented below (with links added in to help you locate the reviews and events they talk about).

James Loks <************************>


to Philippa





I've just been trying to think about what I'm going to say, in between writing shopping lists and looking at fish stew recipes. Yes we are eating fish stew for christmas which is largely because my wife is Polish, carp is not very tasty and we don't have a bath in which to keep it. This takes a longer explanation but you can google it.

And being gutted that I got back from London yesterday and didn't manage to realise that the Paul Klee show was on until I was on the train home. I know he's not really everyone's cup of tea but I'm some kind of nerdy fan.

I was thinking about asking you what's good, although this is kind of idiotic and maybe not even within the remit of what we're supposed to be talking about. But still, I'm curious to know what for you makes a good show, or good art even, aside from maybe examples [yes, idiotic].

I was also trying to check what I enjoyed and failing because the website isn't loading at this exact moment in time. I remember being enthusiastic about photography in general, getting drunk with Laure Prouvost, although I don't remember if this was this year, Julio le Parc and err, I'm not sure what else. Yes I did just shamelessly name check the Turner prize winner in a way that makes our connection sound way more intimate than it was, I was at one end of a very long table, she was at another. And in fact, since so much was made of her being pregnant, it was probably last year, so irrelevant.


Bon fete!

p.s. I very much admired your take on Japanese sexy time at the British Museum.

Philippa Snow <***********************>


to me


And so!:

It's interesting that you'd mention Laure Prouvost (and your proximity to her, during what we're now calling - in the interests of keeping this 2013-friendly - a deeply intoxicated pregnancy), because my favourite show of the year was one about which I wrote nothing: the Schwitters retrospective at Tate Britain, for which the "Wantee" work was originally produced (as a Grizedale Arts commission, I believe). This could, in fact, also potentially segue into the topic of "what [I believe] makes a good exhibition," because what I adored about the Schwitters retro was its wryness, which always makes a show for me. I think that art which is genuinely playful or humorous is sometimes seen as the preserve of the contemporaries, so it's great to see Schwitters' marvelous nonsense - 

(to wit:

Collected so comprehensively. Did you catch any particularly amusing - or witty, rather - shows in Paris this year? 

(To wit..)

The Shunga affair was an interesting one for me as well, as you mentioned, not least because I attended it while still stricken with the dregs of the lurgy: you can imagine the kind of obscene fever-dream it would've read as in that state. I have to say, though - it was a heartening risk for the British Museum in its gleeful filthiness. I dream, of course, of a day when every parent can take their supervised preteen to see an octopus violating a diver at a major museum - on a drizzly Sunday, no less - at any time of the year, anywhere in the land. But that's just me.

I hear that you were lucky enough to attend my work party in Paris, anyhow, while I was stuck in swingeing (and drizzling) London. How was that? And how was Paris Photo in general, if you caught it?

James Loks <************************>


to Philippa





Shit. I just wrote a whole long thing and then threw it in the bin by accident. Perfect. 

I like your choice of words, a gentle line on satire perhaps, or something a little less pointed, and it's something I also appreciate. I found Laure Prouvost redeems herself from the worst kind of performance ridiculousness with this, that and a form of earnestness which is hard to resist. But I'd never have Schwitters down as particularly humorous artist, did this come across in the show? Another great one I missed by the way. . . 

I'll also say that Grizedale were a pretty amazing beacon of general fun and weird goodness throughout Frieze a couple of years back, I particularly enjoyed the monster mortadella.

As for Paris, it's not very original or interesting but one of the best shows I remember was Julio le Parc at Palais de Tokyo. Funny but in more of a 'come play with me' type thing, and I'm a sucker for a bit of interactivity, reminds me of buttoning pushing trips to the science museum when I was a kid. It had a lot of pretty flashing lights and inflatable punch bags with policemen's faces painted on them.

As for Paris photo, I really enjoyed it. Like I said in the review it was kind of a refreshing break because most art fairs make me want to suck my teeth from my gums and choke on them in the hope of a quick end, New York Frieze this year proving no exception. But this was a bit less full of itself and when you looking at photos you're just looking at a pretty picture, you know what I mean? As opposed to the nature of the universe. . . 

In case you didn't hear about it, it looked like your colleagues had a great time at the work party, as indeed did my wife and I, and what's not to like at Silencio with free drinks, apart from the fact real people don't look like David Lynch characters

Otherwise, Paris, hmmmm, I'm not sure what I can say, there've been the usual round of big names circulating through big galleries, the usual big retrospectives touring through big institutions, still a dearth of smaller or artist run spaces. . .    

The most hubristic thing I've done this year though is start talking about this new aesthetic, derivative or inspired by Maurizio Cattelan, and the whole Toiletpaper thing. I guess it's inevitable that in a graduate show, I started talking about it after the ECAL photography exhibition, you'll see work that influenced by something so successful and you know, kind of present in Paris at the moment with the Kenzo adverts. What makes me take the leap and try to identify it as something I don't know. What's the perspective in London? It's probably been and gone over there no? [But it might also display this wryness]

What's the worst thing you saw?

And I thought I'd send you this

David Lynch, Untitled (Lodz), 2000; Courtesy of the Artist and The Photographers' Gallery.

Philippa Snow <***********************>


to me





I laughed out loud at the idea of looking at the "nature of the universe" at art fairs - you're exactly right. I've a complicated relationship with them: on the one hand, it all seems too much of a great nod to commerce - a "trade show," almost exactly - but then on the other, I at least appreciate the scope of the work that's (theoretically) on show.

And I know exactly what you mean about the ToiletPaper aesthetic: those brightly-coloured absurd constructions featuring - often - young, lissom people are fairly ubiquitous. But Permanent Food was a kind of proto-tumblr, I'd say, so it's less surprising. I will say that as somebody who works at a magazine with a fashion element based in London, there's a real move towards that style in terms of fashion photography (some of it coming from here, and some from New York, with varying degrees of success). 

The "worst" show I saw? I feel awful even writing this, but certainly the show from which I gleaned the least was the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2013, at the ICA. I've no desire to sound like an old crone, or a fuddy-duddy who disagrees with art for ugliness' sake, or art with a one-note concept per se, but I felt myself utterly alienated by almost everything I saw here: to me, a great deal of it looked the way that art might look in an episode of Nathan Barley, if you'll excuse the untopical reference. 

("It's good 'cause it looks like it's good 'cause it's rude, yeah?")

I am willing to admit that this may be a genuine lack of insight on my part, but it's definitely my final verdict. 

On the other hand: this willingness to take risks - and to ehibit counterculture - is the same reason that the ICA is perhaps my favourite London art venue. In a similar vein, I saw an excellent show at Raven's Row a few months ago about psychedelia, which included a wonderful series of Jordan Belson films, a little like this one:

I was sad to have missed Philippe Parreno at the Palais De Tokyo, not least because I read that it reduced Adrian Searle to tears. Did you go?


James Loks <************************>


to Philippa




The scary thing is might just be there [the nature of the universe that is], forgotten somewhere in a corner behind a pile of boxes. Not that I'd recognise it as after about ten minutes in a fair I get this visual snow thing. 

But I've seen your worst show in London! How exciting. And yes, much as I love the ICA, it was pretty woeful. I don't know, it seemed kind of tired, not what you want from a show of this sort. A curious paradox, both a bit fresh from Art School and a bit tired. One piece illustrated what we're talking, and I think agreeing, about: a quarter circle of different neons in a mirrored corner, in itself good, visually interesting and all the rest, but underneath were arranged a quarter circle of disposable mineral water bottles, I can't remember which brand, but the important thing, for this piece, was that they had different coloured caps, you can imagine the kind of thing, with a hint of lemon, blackberry, etc etc. Yes, matching the colours of neons. It seems crass and out of place, you go to the wall and read the blurb and the bottles were filled with petrol that was the amount used to run the lights or something or other. I don't know. I guess you get what I'm talking about, it was a good piece spoilt because it was trying to be something it wasn't [And no sense of humour]. Anyway. I'd probably say this show was mediocre, but, fortunately for you, it wasn't the worst thing I've seen this year, although now I'd be hard pressed to directly recall anything specific. I appear to be blessed with a selective memory. This is the year however when I introduced my 'Conforama test' for visual art. Conforama being a mid-to-economy level interior design store found in Paris, they have a website. The test is to judge if the object/painting would look out of place in a Conforama store. If it does then it passes. What's scary is the amount of work that fails. What's also scary is the amount of work and artists. I don't know, do you find this as terrifying as I do? Even if I long gave up on any pretence to comprehensive knowledge.


Philippe Parreno. No. I haven't seen it. I have been meaning to. And admitting this is not very professional, but now, with the added incentive of Adrian Searle's tears I will certainly use the next week to visit. It's 22 thousand square meters, did you know that? For one artist, first time ever in Palais de Tokyo. . . That's a really big show. 

And I love the spinning lights.

But tell me, the year ahead? What's the story?

Finally, I consulted the room to see what video I should send, and my wife suggested Krecik the mole because Zdenek Miler died last year, and then I checked and he didn't, he died in 2011, but. . . .

Philippe Parreno, Anywhere, Anywhere, Out Of The World, Palais de Tokyo, 2013; © Photo : Aurélien Mole.

Philippa Snow <***********************>


to me





For the year ahead - I have to admit that I haven't yet seen the Chapman brothers' new show at the Serpentine, which I'm quite looking forward to checking out now that I'm back in the city: even those I know who aren't normally fond have reported good things, and I take some gurgling, juvenile glee in their work as-is. Martin Creed, too, has his first major retrospective at the Southbank this year, as soon as the end of this month; on a less artbuster-y note, I'll be checking out this:

I'm rather hoping to go back to Art Basel Miami this year, too, if only to have the opportunity to write a whole debauched gonzo magnum opus about it. I reckon I could manage at least a short book.

Oh, and having mentioned Lynch earlier (which we did, by dint of having mentioned Silencio) - he's an exhibition on at the Photographers' Gallery over here, from the 14th of this month. It's of his "factory photographs," which may be less interesting than some of his output, but I'll still be duty-bound to check it out, as I do with everything Lynch, year by year. 

As payback for your delightful mole - and as a working answer to your question about anxiety I might feel about the ever-growing number of artists who need to be looked at - I include a brief classic from the master below:

I know exactly the rainbow artwork you're talking about.

(And I'm glad that the ecstasy of Adrian Searle might spur you on to visit the show at the Palais: equally unprofessional to admit, but I always follow his reviews, and usually enjoy them - I remember one about his visit to the Yoko Ono show at the Serpentine in [can it be?] 2012, where he ended it by saying he was off to the pub.)

And what about your new year?

James Loks <************************>


to Philippa


Hi, sorry for the late reply deadline-wise, I just got off a plane and am eventually back in Paris. Whew. International christmas duties over for one year.

This all sounds very interesting and exciting! I appreciate both the Chapman's and Martin Creed [particularly the inchoate rage he, in fact the both do (or should I say all since they're twins?) provoke in certain people]. Getting a reaction. . . .

In Paris I'd love to tell you what I'm looking forward to but I can't. This isn't through laziness [I promise] but I had to give up after about half an hour of looking through the most absurdly dysfunctional selection of websites you're ever likely to see because I was ready to scream or pull my own eyeballs out. Palais de Tokyo, haha, they have a great website and another huge show about the sky, which, sounds like lots of fun. So I don't know, I'm looking forward to continuing the search for things that are behind the surface of this city, but we'll see how that goes. 

I also remembered perhaps the worst thing I saw last year, the state sponsored 'Art-squat' on Rue Rivoli. Terrible. 

But here's wishing you a wonderful new year of great art and good things

James xx

P.S. I'm sure there'll be some great shows in Paris this year. Promise it. 


James Loks, Philippa Snow 



(Image on top: Julio le Parc; Courtesy of the artist and Palais de Tokyo)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 1/9/14 | tags: 2013 year in review Paris London shunga grizedale David Lynch laure prouvost Julio Le Parc palais de tokyo ica london psychedelic Bloomberg Frieze Art Fair jake and dinos chapman martin creed paris photo adrian searle serpentine Paul Klee kurt schwitters

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