Reductio Ad Rirkrit

Paris
02.14.05

We hopped in a cab last Wednesday night and headed over to ye olde sixth arrondisement, where Rirkrit Tiravanija's “Une Retrospective (tomorrow is another fine day)” was opening in the venerable Couvent des Cordeliers. The Couvent, a beautifully delapidated thirteenth-century gothic hall (and the site of a French Revolutionary club, where Marat's dead body lay in state), is the interim headquarters of the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC, whose building on Avenue du Président Wilson is closed for restoration. We've seen some good shows at the Couvent in the last year, including ones by Anri Sala and Annette Messager. The press material calls the hall a refectory, which would resonate with Rirkrit's communal meals of yore, and I went fully expecting to find some feast (or garage-band concert) in progress. On the contrary, we found ghostly evocations of past installations, each located in a discrete space with a prominent title emblazoned on the curving, pinkish, particle-board walls of the artist's temporary installation.

The first thing you saw was a plexi-windowed space called The Aquarium, which I later learned was a to-scale copy of the windowed space of the same name in the stairwell of the Avenue du Wilson ARC building. In fact, the whole installation of curving walls mimics the gallery spaces of that building, an echo of the artist’s to-scale model of Rudolf Schindler's house in LA, made for a show at the Vienna Secession. (A meditation on that piece was heard on the audiotape of the Paris show. One excerpt authored by the novelist Bruce Sterling: “I wish I could explain to you what it's like to live in the timeless space of one of these antique modern Schindler homes; in fact, I wish I could explain to you what it's like to live.”)

With The Aquarium, a svelte actress read from a typescript, something about ghosts and technology by French artist Philippe Parreno. At intervals, other women, acting as ARC tour guides, discoursed to small groups about the installations being evoked. I smiled when overhearing a mention of Plato's cave, and I found myself heading down memory lane when I heard an early food piece at the old 303 Gallery in SoHo meticulously recounted as “Un peu la cantine des artistes.” The crowd, of all ages and hip, was absolutely rapt, as if at some late-Surrealist theater piece.

The to-scale allusion to the ARC’s '30s architecture, with its great curving walls, lit by two long rows of fluorescent lights on the ceiling, was especially successful in the pale-stoned gothic hall. The dusty pink of the particle board looked very studied (and perfectly calibrated) next to the mottled stones and central, tall wood columns of the Couvent, by no means an easy exhibition space.

I spotted Hans-Ulrich Obrist, one of the show's three curators (the others are Laurence Bosse and Anne Dressen); Irie, the fashion designer and contemporary-art maven; the artist himself; and Laura Hoptmann and her husband, painter Verne Dawson. Laura reminded me, when I inquired, that she'd done her first project at MoMA in New York with Rirkrit, and that he'd been one of her advisors for this year's Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. Rirkrit also cocurated “Utopia Station” with Obrist and Molly Nesbit at the Venice Biennale two years ago. It’s a small world after all.

We walked out into the madeover Odeon area, complete with its new Starbucks and its lovingly restored bouillons, or workers' restaurants, and passed the great neoclassical Theatre de l'Odeon, its sandy luminousity peeking out from behind the tarps covering it during its elaborate renovation. Paris is full of such drastically cleaned-up, old-new buildings that really put a spin on my sense of memory and the past. Rirkrit's show had sent us into a kind of early-'90s tailspin, but that's what retrospectives do, don't they? As a rhetorical discourse, a ghostly disappearance, and a ramshackle monument—all rolled into one—the artist succeeded in making his Parisian nonretrospective seem like a haunting neoclassical ruin.

Brooks Adams