PARIS The Grand Palais is an enormous enclosed space, 13,500 square meters (145,000 square feet) without a single obstacle on the floor, covered by a dome 35 meters (115 feet) high.
What was originally meant to be a temporary building, built for the Universal Exposition of 1900, has become an architectural fixture in the French capital. It has been used for horse shows, auto shows, congresses, fashion shows, concerts, dance, and art exhibits. And since 2007, there has been Monumenta: a carte blanche given to an artist to occupy the vast nave under the changing Parisian sky. After Anselm Kiefer, Richard Serra in 2008, Christian Boltanski in 2010 and Anish Kapoor last year, its time for Daniel Buren to take on the challenge.
And indeed its a challenge! Daniel Buren says that the Grand Palais is huge public square. This public square is covered with a glass roof and its architecture is a performance. Monumenta is an exhibition like no other. Should the artist converse with the architecture, overcome it or discreetly slide into it?
Anselm Kiefer took a very traditional approach, valuable more for the pieces than for the use of space. After him, Richard Serra set up huge steel plates confronting the sky; Boltanski created a mind-blowing clothes cemetery with a crane manipulating a pile of garments, and Anish Kapoor shaped an enormous creature, frightening on the outside and welcoming inside. Each one of them turned the challenge into a conversation between the work and the Grand Palais.
In France, Daniel Buren is one of the few artists who has already faced such spaces, either in institutions like New York's Guggenheim or the Centre Pompidou in Paris, or during international exhibitions like the Skulptur Projekte of Münster. Intervention in public spaces is Burens trademark, which he calls in situ pieces. Monumenta thus seemed to be just for him.
Loved and reviled
As one of the most popular and unpopular contemporary French artists, Burens intervention was highly anticipated. It must be noted that he gained this dual standing thanks to his Deux Plateaux, known by the nickname of Burens columns, built 26 years ago in the courtyard of the venerable Palais Royal.
The artist entitled his exhibition Excentrique(s) (eccentric), without any explanation, maybe because the confrontation with the Grand Palais is such a puzzle. He wanted above all to take advantage of the building construction, made of circles, giving birth to two rectangles which come together under a circular dome. And the result is some 100 circles, covered with colored film blue, yellow, red, green and fixed on 1,300 metal legs above the visitors heads, amplifying the extent of the nave. The system is interrupted just under the dome and can be watched through big circular mirrors.
The exhibition is also eccentric because Buren succeeded in changing the way people can circulate in the Grand Palais, whose entrance is located at the level of the dome. The artist wanted the visitors to cross the nave from north to south to discover the system midway through.
At 74, Daniel Buren is perhaps the singular specialist at playing with exceptional spaces. He always succeeds in revealing the shape and function of the locations, both in his in situ pieces, only meant to be seen in one place, and in his situated pieces that can be transformed, depending on the place. For Monumenta, Buren remains simple, effective and a little frosty by dint of deliberate intelligence and the rigor in his choices.
Fortunately, theres also the sound. Because Excentrique(s) is not only a visual exhibition. The work is accompanied by loudspeakers placed in the nave, broadcasting 37 voices giving the name of the colors in 37 different languages. The loudspeakers seem to whisper intermittently in your ear, as if a confidant suddenly appeared behind your back. It is a touch of poetry to the mechanical precision.
Read the original article in French
Photo - Groume