Thursday, October 11, 2007

Quai Branly & Palais de Tokyo

Art Reviews:

The massive Musée de Quai Branly sits across the Seine from the edgy Palais de Tokyo, which is oddly housed in the neo-classical, temple like building that is also home to the Musée d’Art Moderne. A short bridge across the river links these two institutions which can make for a worthwhile, if not convenient, few hours of exhibition viewing.

On view at the Palais de Tokyo is “The Third Mind,” an exhibition conceived by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. Lately the expectation for disappointment fills my mind when I walk into most exhibitions these days, but happily “The Third Mind” did not let me down. It’s a smart exhibition that includes work by thirty-one artists. The show is well installed with each room showing 2-4 artists giving a smaller dialogue among a few works as well as with the theme of the exhibition as a whole.

The exhibition takes its inspiration from a quote by Napoleon Hill, who was essentially an early 20th century motivational speaker, “No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible force which may be likened to a third mind,” which at one time inspired William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin to name one of their collaborations “The Third Mind.” On view is a series of these collages, which as the brochure for the show indicates, was a collaboration that explored the “cut-up,” a method in which they cut up words and images and rearranged them randomly to allow for new connections to emerge. Other highlights in the exhibition are a selection of “Screen Tests” by Andy Warhol, which include Marcel Duchamp, Susan Sontag and Allan Ginsburg among others, the moody, black and white paintings of Jay de Feo and the aluminum screen prints of Cady Noland representing newspaper images and text about the life of William Randolph Hearst as well as the assassination of President Lincoln. My favorite room however is Paul Thek, an artist’s, artist who has been somewhat overlooked until recently, and Emma Kunz, a Swiss woman born in the late 19th century who worked as a spiritual healer and who made incredible colored pencil on graph paper drawings that relate with her research into mysticism and are said to be codes for healing practice. Their work looks great together. This is what helps make “The Third Mind” a success; the mix of styles and artists represented. There is no specific aesthetic agenda being played out and some of the selections surprise at first but then seem to fall into place.

Across the river at the controversial Quai Branly is an exhibition titled “Diaspora,” organized by the French filmmaker Claire Denis. I remember seeing my first Claire Denis film, “Chocolat,” in my high school French class, and I was captivated, so I was curious to see her vision translated into the visual arts. “Diaspora” focuses on the African Diaspora, as the brochure says, “portraying it not as a loss of identity but on the contrary, as a source of enrichment through contact with new identities.” All of the work was made specifically for this exhibition.

Like most of Quai Branly, I walked through the exhibition feeling like I was high and looking for the VIP room in some disco. The dark, moody lighting interspersed with black lights and spotlights makes for a constant eye readjustment, and I felt like I continuously had my hand out towards the wall in case I ran into something. Each installation is essentially housed in a black geodesic like dome that you enter and pass through. Sound and video take center stage. The Egyptian artist Yousry Nasrallah’s film “The bottom of the lake,” with its 5 screens showing the sea, a boy swimming through underwater, rocky like environments was beautiful, poignant and meditative. Contrary to that was Caroline Cartier’s installation titled “Goguma,” in which you walk into one room of cinderblocks, a TV that is showing snowy fuzz and a wall of speakers with voices surrounding you. It gave a sensation of claustrophobia and fear, like either you have walked into some underground hideout or a prison cell. A highlight in the show is John Galliano’s installation of 4 gowns that are said to represent the influences of Africa on western haute couture. They are beautiful and eerie, made with beads, alligator skin, fur and lovely printed textiles.

The exhibition tends to feel a bit lost however. There is a quality of the show feeling like a high production value cultural theme park as you walk into each room for its message to hit you. There is no cohesion to the works and no connection among them but that they were made for this show. It’s unfortunate because it is an important, untouched subject that deserves proper viewing.

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