Daniel Buren's installation for Monumenta 2012, at the Grand Palais, is a particular dream if you're fond of taking photographs. There are so many colours and so many angles and so many details and so many people wandering around looking at everything.
If you're planning to see the exhibition, I think you might have a better experience without having seen too many images. For this reason, I tried only to post more obtuse images in my review for AngloINFO Paris. As most readers of this blog aren't based in Paris, I've decided to post others here, along with my comments on the installation.
Daniel Buren, in a move slightly less predictable than black stripes, has filled the Grand Palais with coloured circles. His stripes still appear but more sneakily than usual, lining the poles that hold the transparent circles above the visitor's head. Visitors wander through a forest of circles and stripes, glimpsing the Grand Palais in colours or in breaks between the circles, to the centre of the installation. Here, one emerges into a clearing, with mirrored circles placed on the ground for observing the dome of the Grand Palais, to which Buren has added blue sections.
The space is huge, and so visitors are sometimes quite removed from one another and sometimes clustered together. The ambiance changes based on how crowded an area is, with areas near the entrance (as people rush toward the centre) feeling much like the countryside and the area around the exit (as people linger) more akin to a crowded railway station, complete with kiosk selling books. The sounds of others similarly seem sometimes quite muted and at other times amplified; in the cafe, conversations seemed almost to echo. There is also a sound element to the installation itself, sparse words and atmospheric sounds creating a nice rhythm, almost like chanting, as one walks through.
Buren's installation is appealingly lo-fi. One can see the speakers that the sounds come out of and the posts holding the circles up. The mirrors on the floor are already smudged and scratched from the feet that walk over them. The boundaries of the installation aren't dressed up. Everything is exposed. Stylish as the installation is, it doesn't feel over-designed or as if Buren is trying to take over the Grand Palais.
It also, unfortunately, doesn't seem like Buren is really engaging with the building in any substantial way. The Grand Palais is arguably the greatest interior space in the world, and a challenging setting for any artist. Nonetheless, Buren is surprisingly deferential; he is, after all, the artist who placed striped pillars in the Grand Palais, offering both an iconic artwork for 1980s political drama and an example of his pioneering alternative to the white cube. It is largely the trend that Buren set in motion -creating in situ contemporary art in relation to historical settings- that led, indirectly, over many years, to the creation of Monumenta, which does just that. If any artist were capable of presenting a viable challenge to the Grand Palais's architecture, and something that might further illuminate the Grand Palais by challenging it, one would think it might be Buren.
It's for this reason that Buren's beautiful homage to the Grand Palais at times feels a little flat, the easier and less exciting of the two options. The Grand Palais upstages Buren's installation fairly regularly, particularly as one ascends and descends the spectacular staircase, which here provides a view of the circles from above. From here, it feels as if the shapes are bowing in deference to the building's arches and curves. The blue sections on the dome look mildly decorative and a little pointless, though they do work well elsewhere, providing definition to the dome and making it feel as if the colours are bouncing around the space.
Buren does do a good job echoing the building's architecture with his circles and posts, and with encouraging visitors to consider the Grand Palais from different perspectives -a detail glimpsed through a gap, for example, alongside a view of the space as a whole. There are also countless places from which to view the installation and the building in relation to one another, from the crowded spaces at the centre and on the balcony to the less crowded areas around the periphery and under the staircase itself. The cafe under the canopy of circles provides a nice place to contemplate the work and an incentive to prolong one's stay.
Whether one is satisfied with 2012's installation or expected more, Buren's presence in Monumenta, a commission which resonates so deeply with his earlier work, is a reminder of how much the artist has contributed to contemporary art. It's perhaps because the art world has changed so much since Buren's youth, partially due to his work, that this no longer feels radical. At this point, an installation like this, beautiful and uplifting, may be more appropriate than an installation presenting more intellectual criticism. Monumenta shows that Buren doesn't just move the art world forward, but also creates lovely pieces around which one can linger.