The Erasure of the Museum

Review: The Erasure of the Museum

“…and what if everything I saw was a sign, a clue?”

Witold Gombrowitz, Kosmos.

*Boris Achour, Cosmos, 2002. 10.09 – 13.10

*Meschac Gaba, Le Salon, 2002. 29.01 – 08.09

*Le Festival Art et Squats 10.09 – 2.10

*One Star Press: Le Stand 10.09 – 07.10

*Tobius Bernstrup, Nekropolis, 2002. 03.10 – 12.01 et al.

Palais de Tokyo: site de création contemporaine (métros Iéna and Alma-Marceau)

*Max Beckman, Un Peintre dans Histoire [A Painter in History]. – 06.01.03 (level six)

*Daniel Buren, Le Musée qui n’existant pas [The Museum that Did Not Exist].

26.05 – 23.09 (level six and otherwise dispersed throughout the complex)

*Carrefour de la Création: Du Design au Jardin [Crossroads of Creation: From Design to the Garden].

10.07 – 21.10 (forum and mezzanine levels)

Musée National d’Art  Moderne, Centre Pompidou (métros Rambuteau and Hôtel de Ville)

Paris, late summer, exhibits itself alongside its famous musées. Arranged according to gradually accrued curatorial gestures, the city is like an exhibition hall writ large. You wander the streets and cannot help but read every passing gesture, every flippant remark, as a sign. But what are we to make of that surfeit of signs that offer clues of a lost time? And what are we in search of when arriving in such a city as this, crowded with its history and celebratory monuments to greatness? Should you choose to explore such venues as the Centre Pompidou or the Palais de Tokyo, what you will discover is that the once sacred ground of the museum has undergone an act of erasure. Daniel Buren, who has spread signs of his activity over all eight levels of the Centre Pompidou, speaks with his title of a nonexistent museum. The intent of his work is to pull at the seams of the museum as enclosure for precious artifacts, to transform the space itself so that it “becomes what it was not before.” (Daniel Buren, “To Exhibit in a Museum is to Exhibit the Museum”, 04.2002). His centre-piece, “the device”, is composed of a grey and white checkerboard of sixty-one cells. Each cell measures approximately three by three metres, with ceiling heights that occasionally hover not much over two metres. We are assailed by mirrors, leaning walls, violently lit enclosures. The installation is directed toward the perturbation of the traditional museological relationship between container and content. While the unwitting spectator, circulating endlessly and aimlessly, is transformed into an occupant without a place, the cells, empty squares wherein inhabitation is forever deferred, obliterate the greater enclosure that is the museum. It is a game, but one within which there is neither winner nor loser, only transient and mute witnesses to the non-place the museum seems to have become.

As for the once monumental, marble-clad edifice of that quasi-Soviet edifice, the Palais de Tokyo, its erasure has been carried out by quite other means. The museum has been stripped bare by its bachelors, gutted, defaced and hauled out on display before a fascinated public. The ticket booth is a makeshift caravan, the gallery bookstore is enclosed with cyclone fencing. The interior walls are so scarified, it is impossible to tell whether demolition or construction is underway. Clarifying matters, Tokyo Idem, the gallery café, accommodates a modish crowd squatting on low stools that are littered across one of the museum’s permanent installations, Michael Lin’s floral floor painting, reminiscent of a Taiwanese child’s gaudy handkerchief rendered unexpectedly oversized. As for further signs of activity, Boris Achour invites us into his demented video club, where we discover, despite the innumerable genres on offer as indicated by the diverse covers, all the video cassettes own the same title: Cosmos. Meschac Gaba, in turn, encourages us to relax in his Salon, the eleventh of a series of twelve planned domestic scenes he has distributed across a number of museums. So make yourself at home in what calls to mind a white-elephant stall. Rest a while, resuscitate one of those childhood games that have been gathering dust in the recesses of a cupboard for the last twenty years. Forget where you are, most importantly, forget the museum. (It is also worthwhile mentioning the rather fashionable opening hours of this institution: midday to midnight.) Meanwhile, flickering flat-screen monitors display incomprehensible signs of exhibitions past and yet to come. We have missed Tatania Trouvé’s investigation of the useless and the life of little failures, but, next month, Tobius Bernstrup has promised us a visit to a Necropolis that looks suspiciously like a post-apocalyptic Paris.