I attended La Force de l'Art 02 on the opening weekend and expected long lines outside the Grand Palais. Though the exhibit was in its final weekend (later extended) the line for TAG--the graffiti collection of Gallizia--stretched out past the grand entrance and Andy next door was reeling in hundreds. La Force de l'Art? Nobody. Not a single person waiting to see the triennial of French contemporary art. ORLAN was signing books that day and looked a little forlorn at her table, waiting for people to notice her. There were a few people milling about inside however, and the opening was well attended of course, but it just doesn't seem that anybody really cares much about a triennial celebration of contemporary French art.
The layout- a "geologie blanche"- was designed by architect Philippe Rahm to look like an undulating landscape of art, and consists of irregularly angled white walls, forming something of a village, where each "Resident" artist has a little house, some with roofs to house video works or paintings, some open to the sky--the sky being of course the glass dome of the Grand Palais. Keep in mind that the entire exhibit is illuminated by sunlight, bouncing off of the "white geology", and the effect is blinding, something like a village of white houses in the Mediterranean on a summer day. So bring sunglasses, or visit at nighttime, as the exhibit stays open until 11pm on the weekend. The landscape does make for an intriguing navigation of the exhibit however, as instead of following a course, the viewer is drawn or repelled by other forces at work, and must navigate slopes and investigate rooms. It's quite an enjoyable experience.
But it seems that more press release pages were devoted to explaining the source of the geologie blanche than there was to the works on view. In fact the curators dismissed the idea of an overarching theme or any theoretical crutch, and emphasized only the strength, la force, of each individual artwork.
Why some artworks were chosen to participate in this event is a total mystery. Let's put it this way: some of the "Residents" in the Village de la Geologie Blanche are some bad neighbors. I'm not going to devote any more space to this than I need to, but I'll just say one thing: shrieking babies and irritating idealogues. Damien Deroubaix's installation Derrick tries to sum up all of the world's problems without any grains of salt, or tongues in cheek, and it just comes across as underwhelming; and Philippe Mayaux's sound installation was just downright annoying (his protest signs were pretty cute though). Both apparently work within and around the notion of "bad taste", but for me a line was crossed, causing me to either roll my eyes, or run out of the room. More ridiculousness with Olivier Bardin's work; the concept I would expect from a lazy BFA student.
The highlights of the show begin with the stunning sculpture by Anita Molinero: a sculpture built of bright red melted trash bins, hanging from the ceiling like a divine chandelier, or a writhing melted plastic alien with thick tendrils twisting towards the floor. The effect is otherworldly and rather violent, simple and powerful.
Fabrice Hyber's POF shop, is crammed full of the artist's prototypes of ordinary objects with diverted, often subverted, functions in a messy collection of interactive yet useless objects, and a collection of rotting vegetables. On the other hand Julian Prévieux's installation is exceedingly organized, to the point of parody. In the center is a collection of outdated library books, their titles and covers testifying their obsolescence, while on the wall is an elaborate graph linking and charting all of life's subjects--an impossible task laid out with such precision it marks the futility of the entire exercise.
Finally, the force is strong with this artistic duo: Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni, who created the most magnetic piece in the show. The Outland is a large black box, perched atop hydraulic legs, that bounces and dives unpredictably, shudders and shakes, tips and wobbles, to the point you might be afraid it will fall over. It is in fact a flight simulator ride, with no door and no external markings. As soon as you learn that, the box becomes more and more intriguing, inciting imaginary flight paths as you try to reconcile the visible movement of the box with what sort of vision the imaginary audience inside would be experiencing.
Other mentions include Grout / Mazeas' Sans Titre, with alternative titles like You damn fool, you ruined the door! and The Texas chain-saw massacre, this work is a prefab, sliced-in-half house, a wry homage to Matta-Clark. Watch out for the goo that is seeping from the walls, and observe its spider web effect over the demolished furniture. Also, Nicolas Fenouillat's incredible casts of churned up dirt under tractor wheels, mounted on the wall as paintings, takes texture and materiality to a different dimension; and Xavier Boussiron's and Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux's Le miracle familier will enchant and elude any art historian.
So why is nobody talking about La Force de l'Art? All in all, the exhibit at the Grand Palais is indeed grand and impressive, but quite a few of the individual artworks lacked the force to pull it off. Despite some inevitable disappointments however, the exhibit is well worth visiting for the few standout pieces as well as to simply experience the architecture of and inside the Grand Palais. As we left we passed by Kader Attia's installation on the floor, which juts beyond the structured geologie, an assemblage of fragile plastic bags arranged on the floor. A line of tape demarcates the border of the artwork and a visitor, an older man, an oblivious photographer, was attempting to place a grapefruit next to one of the plastic bags and take a photo of it. A fresh faced young security guard kept blushingly telling him to stop and remove his grapefruit. The photographer asked "Why?", and the young man, smiling bashfully, stumbled on his words, "Well, eh...because..." Come on, didn't they tell you that you mustn't disturb the artist's "poetry of emptiness"?
(*Images, from top to bottom:
Philippe Rahm, architect, La Géologie Blanche, the White Geology, 2009.
Grout/Mazeas, Sans Titre [You damn fool, you ruined the door!-The Texes chain saw massacre], 2009 - Photo Didier Plowy, tous droits réservés La Force de l’Art 02 / Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication 2009.
Fabrice Hyber, POF Shop, 1999-2009 Courtesy Fabrice Hyber et galerie Jérôme de Noirmont - Photo Didier Plowy, tous droits réservés La Force de l’Art 02 / Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication 2009.
Julien Prévieux, La totalité des propositions vraies (avant), 2008-2009 Courtesy Jousse Entreprise - Photo Didier Plowy, tous droits réservés La Force de l’Art 02 / Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication 2009.
Fabien Giraud et Raphaël Siboni, The Outland (Simulateur fermé), 2009 - Photo Didier Plowy, tous droits réservés La Force de l’Art 02 / Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication 2009.
Xavier Boussiron et Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, Le mira cle familier, 2009- Détail - Photo Didier Plowy, tous droits réservés La Force de l’Art 02 / Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication 2009.)