Paris Contemporary Art Center Palais de Tokyo Reopens With "La Vie Magnifique"

Ugo Rondinone, THANX 4 NOTHING, 2015, film installation. © Ugo Rondinone. Courtesy of the artist.

"La Vie Magnifique" at the Palais de Tokyo: Art, Poetry, and Performance in Paris

Most would agree that just about any time is a wonderful time to be in Paris. But as a bracing crispness invigorates the air and the occasional drizzle renders the grey streets in Caillebotte-like reflections, October may be the best time for lovers of art and culture. The month kicks off with the city's yearly all-night celebration of light and art, Nuit Blanche, and then continues with Paris's international contemporary art fair, FIAC, while the Festival d'Automne brings music, art, and dance performances to the city throughout the fall season. Coinciding with the rush of FIAC and its attendant flurry of art events and openings, on October 21, Paris contemporary art center Palais de Tokyo is inaugurating a new season of exhibitions and performances, celebrating the beauty in everyday life.

John Giorno, LIVING IN YOUR EYES, 2015, acrylic on canvas. © Etienne Frossard. Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Dee, New York.

A venue that is fond of reinventing itself, the Palais de Tokyo's new program follows a month-long hiatus, as it sweeps away the evidence of last season's exhibitions and installations to make way for a museum made anew. These extended periodic closures may indeed inconvenience the unlucky tourist or visitor, but the grand re-opening of the Palais is something to look forward to, and casts all the programming in a new, refreshed light. This upcoming season brings together poetry, performance, music, and art under the theme "La Vie Magnifique," showing how art can infuse the poetic and the sublime into the simple moments of life. The artists of these exhibitions hail from the worlds of art, music, and poetry -- artist and curator Ugo Rondinone; poet and artist John Giorno; artist, performer, and musician Ragnar Kjartansson; and visual artist Mélanie Matranga--showing the many ways these different disciplines feed into and influence each other.

Andy Warhol, Sleep, 1963, 16mm film, black and white, silent. ©2015 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA.

One exhibition shines as an example of how personal relationships and art can influence each other in surprising and beautiful ways. An exhibition that is at once a retrospective, a work of art in its own right, and a "declaration of love," "I Love John Giorno" is curated, produced, and expressed by Ugo Rondinone -- artist, curator, and John Giorno's partner for over 15 years. It marks the first retrospective of the American poet, well known as a key figure of the underground scene of New York since the 1960s, a longtime friend and sometime lover to Andy Warhol, a sound artist, painter, and performer -- and the first work of art conceived in the form of a retrospective-as-portrait, "the invention of a new genre," as curator Florence Ostende put it.

John Giorno, the founder of Dial-A-Poem, in 1969. © Patrick A. Burns/The New York Times.

While New York City no doubt claims Giorno as a fixture -- he's resided on the Bowery for five decades -- the city of Paris has long had a love affair with the American poet. Giorno has performed in Paris many times over the years, exhibited his paintings at Almine Rech Gallery and other venues, and, in 2012, was invited to install several large-scale permanent paintings at the Palais de Tokyo as interventions on the building. So it is fitting that Giorno's retrospective should land in Paris. A range of works by Giorno will be on view, including his interactive work Dial-a-Poem, first exhibited in 1968, as well as his distinct, succinct poem paintings. Filling out this portrait of Giorno, and revealing a fuller picture of the poet, will be works by other artists who have portrayed him, including Pierre Huyghe, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Elizabeth Peyton, and a new film installation by Rondinone, featuring Giorno performing the poem THANX 4 NOTHING. On November 18, as part of the Festival d'Automne, Paris audiences can enjoy a live performance by Giorno, along with a film loop accompaniment, and a sound environment.

Ragnar Kjartansson, World Light, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York; la galerie i8, Reykjavik.

Complementing Giorno's retrospective at the Palais de Tokyo is Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson's exhibition Seul celui qui connaît le désir [Only the one who knows desire], which incorporates music, durational performance, as well as cinematic and operatic stylistic constructs. Kjartansson's work ranges from the moving and sublime, to the mundane, even the boring, sometimes all within one work. A catalyzing experience for the artist, he says, was working as a stage hand at an opera, experiencing at the same time the banality of manual work in an atmosphere of awe-inspiring arias. New video installations and projects by Kjartansson, specially conceived for the exhibition, will be on view, including an epic-length video performance adapting a tragic novel about a destitute poet, by Halldór Laxness, presented un-edited and un-cut, revealing the production processes of filmmaking.

Ragnar Kjartansson and Kjartan Sveinsson, The Explosive Sonics of Divinity / Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen, 2014. Volksbühne Berlin. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York; la galerie i8, Reykjavik. Photo: Thomas Aurin.

The last of the three generations of artists of "La Vie Magnifique," young French artist Mélanie Matranga presents her first major museum solo show. For the exhibition, entitled 反复, pronounced "fanfù," which means "more and more," Matranga has created a series of installation environments, through which visitors will progress, moving between a (functional) smoking room, to a room for watching TV, or rooms filled with furniture cast from various indoor spaces, along with drawings, sculptures, and video works. Matranga's play between interior and exterior, private and public signifiers, results in an experience by which the awkward and intimate moments and environments of everyday life collide with institutional settings and social conventions.

Mélanie Matranga, A perspective, somehow, installation view, Karma International, Zurich, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Karma International. Photo: Gunnar Meier.

Beyond the walls of the Palais de Tokyo, there are many opportunities to experience poetry, performance, and contemporary art right now in Paris. FIAC will present Voices of Urgency, a series of four events addressing poetry and its relation to other forms of contemporary thought, along with two commissioned sound art pieces, and a number of performance art works by young artists at the fair and other event spaces around the city. American artist Shana Moulton's multi-media performance, in collaboration with Andrew Kerton and Lucy Stein, at the David Lynch-designed nightclub Silencio, should be especially intriguing (Saturday, October 24, 9pm). But of course, in Paris, poetry and performance are never far from reach, played out on a daily basis on the promenades and grand boulevards of the city itself, la vie magnifique, tous les jours.

Mélanie Matranga, "L'époque, les humeurs, les valeurs, l'attention", installation view, 16ème prix de la Fondation d'entreprise Ricard, Fondation d'entreprise Ricard, Paris, 2014. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Aurélien Mole.


"La Vie Magnifique" at the Palais de Tokyo runs from October 21, 2015 to January 10, 2016.


--Natalie Hegert

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