International Style

Paris
12.10.04

Left: Michel Blazy, The Missing Garden, 2002-04. Installation view, Le Plateau, Paris. Right: Dafne Boggeri, OK KO, 2004. Installation view, Le Plateau, Paris. (Photos: Marc Domage and Jérome Pierre-Jean)


On a freezing December evening, we rose from a winter’s nap and, automatonlike, lumbered out to our Twingo and drove up to Le Plateau for the opening of “Ralentir Vite” (Slow Down Fast), the first exhibition curated by the space’s new director, Caroline Bourgeois. A mixture of altruism and curiosity had led us to brave the cold. The two-year-old venue Le Plateau is one of those alternative spaces that one feels obliged to support, and we were hoping that the advent of Bourgeois would lend some spark to what has been, it must be said, a lackluster program. The drive—up the Canal Saint Martin and past the Oscar Niemeyer Communist Center, then around the Buttes Chaumont and into the heights of a intriguing neighborhood replete with Jewish restaurants having Hanukkah celebrations—made for a rather anticlimactic arrival at what always seems like a slightly generic contemporary art space (white walls, exposed ceiling fixtures) located in the lobby of a humdrum new apartment building. The sense of a venue that is public in mission yet decidedly local (geographically, at least) seems appropriate enough to the populist mandate of FRAC (Fonds régional d’art contemporain), which was founded in 1983 to spread contemporary art throughout France and elsewhere, and of which Le Plateau is the Parisian outpost. Bourgeois, formerly an employee of supercollector Francois Pinault, is one half of Bick Productions, which recently produced Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image, an eleven-DVD survey of major contemporary artists—from Douglas Gordon to Anri Sala—in conjunction with New York’s New Museum. For her first Le Plateau effort she once again went for big names (an infrequent occurance during the space’s first two years): There was a Bruce Nauman still-life video of his office, three works by David Hammons (notably, a pair of pants with gold-lined pockets sticking out), and two sculptures by the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Yet somehow it all looked a bit you-could-be-anywhere-in-the-art-world. More compelling were works by two locals: floral designs rendered in chalk on the floor by Michel Blazy, which got all over your shoes; and Michael Francois’s stack of big takeaway posters (a Gonzalez-Torres homage, perhaps, that also fulfilled FRAC’s “community outreach” mission).

In the gallery’s project room, Dafne Boggeri presented a string of Christmas ornaments that guests were invited to smash with a hammer. The crowd, which seemed to be mostly of anonymous young artists and art students—the kind that give you hungry “Who are you?”-type glances—had already disposed of most of them. I did manage to do away with one, and was then handed a tiny slip of paper that said “ti senti miglio?” (feeling better?). I did, a bit, and decided to take another crack at “Ralentir Vite.” It was better the second time around. Carl and Julie, 2000, a wall-size video by Belgian artist David Claerbout (also included in Point of View), looked really good. Argentine Sebastian Diaz Morales’s video installation also impressed. The Man with the Bag, 2004, shows a Godot-like figure carrying a bag of bones through a desolate landscape. The best thing about the piece is its visual texture: It looks like a video processed on top of a landscape painting, so that all the expanses of desert and skin start suggesting panne velvet. This is a really maverick piece; we were both glad we'd come. Has Diaz Morales hit New York yet? He trained in Amsterdam, lives in Mexico, and is in Paris this year. The work is credited to Production Le Fresnoy and Just Like a That Production, and appears courtesy of Berlin’s galerie carlier|gebauer. That's today’s Europe for you.

Afterward, we checked out a couple of restaurants in the nabe. A rowdy Italian looked fun but was booked, so we drove back down the hill, through the fantastically colorful Rue de Belleville (with its Chinese and Thai eateries) and the Faubourg du Temple (with its Favela Chic dance joint), and wound up at a small Lyonnais place called Cartet. As we munched liver and sausage next to noisy Brits (who for once made us glad we didn't live in London), I found myself asking why Le Plateau, despite showcasing some decent, even quite good work, can’t live up to the colorful neighborhood around it. Perhaps Bourgeois, by presenting a range of international art, is aiming to fill gaps left by the increasingly cliquish agendas of the Centre Pompidou and the Palais de Tokyo. If Le Plateau wants to recast itself as a global art space, fine—but must it rely on a cast of blue-chip characters already familiar from so many biennials and museum surveys?

Brooks Adams