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by Jeff Rian
|The Centre George Pompidou reopened at the beginning of the year after a badly needed renovation and turns out that the actual art galleries have been made more accessible -- once you get past the guards and through the metal detector out front. Much has been made the reinstallation, which is fine. But the Beaubourg is still the same, wonderful, gangly, polemical, tin-can circus it always was.
One special attraction is located behind the information desk, in the neon and metal arcade. There, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan planted a beautiful, crotchety, brilliantly resilient ancient olive tree on a cube of earth measuring about 25 feet to a side. Simply titled Tree (1998), Cattelan's work is an offering of peace and longevity that looks like a bonsai plant after a dose of radioactive Miracle Grow.
The Pompidou's new look
On the ground-floor was a stunning show of Italian architect Renzo Piano, who designed the Pompidou with English architect Richard Rogers -- and who designed his own exhibition as well. Set up like an atelier, with elegant wood models, photographs in vitrines, some actual joints and supports, the installation features maquettes of the Kansai airport in Osaka (which survived an earthquake intact), Piano's massive Berlin apartment complexes, an Italian stadium and more.
Piano's fluid, "vitalist" design style recalls Frank Lloyd Wright's Orientalia and his focus on architecture as a total environment. Piano wraps it all up in a global vision that combines the very best of contemporary technology and unfussy Italian design.
The third and fourth floors house the museum's collection, which opens with a very decent but not-quite-top-of-the-line contemporary section and leads upstairs to great works from the School of Paris. Included are an unusual room of Plexiglas Op art that features Jesus-Rafael Soto, a preponderance of pieces by young French artist Claude Closky (now in his "moment"), a Joseph Beuys felt-wrapped piano from 1984, and a nice but strange room of design pieces and architectural models. The latter are chest high, so if someone is under, say five-foot six, they need a boost up to view the display.
The Pompidou renovation also created a few rooms for impromptu installations. At this writing, on view is Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler's The Poetics Project (now owned by the Beaubourg), a sprawling toast to punk rock, ca. 1977-1997, that features video interviews with Sonic Youth, Alan Vega, Dan Graham, etc., as well as funky slapdash constructions and lots of images and sounds and memories.
On the museum's top floor was "Jour de Fête" (Feast Day), a playful gathering of young artists who specialize in installations -- a moped on a cross by Philippe Ramette; five video holograms of Pierrick Sorin in a model-train park; Frédéric Lecomte's Crash-discs, a floor-based mobile of rock-and-roll paraphernalia; Xavier Vielhan's panoramic photograph of cowboys and skeleton, called The Clearing. Kids seemed to love this show.
The time is fast
The really big show, perfect for tourists, is "Le Temps, Vite!" (Time: Fast), which explores the representation of time, via works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Gordon Matta-Clark, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Andreas Gursky, Gordon Matta-Clark, the ubiquitous Claude Closky and many others. The show is broken down into categories -- the Heavens, Identity, Work, Leisure, Memories, Transport, Real Time, etc. Under "work" was Frank Gilbreth's time-motion studies, and "real time" had Charles and Ray Eames' film about relative size of things in the universe.
Translucent plastic and cheesy skeins of cloth separate the various galleries -- a technique the French also used in their big architecture show at the Guggenheim SoHo in New York last year. The rooms are nice to dawdle through, illustrating time's slippage rather than its speed. All in all, it was neither a great science exposition nor a dazzle of artists' renderings. But everyone will find something to wonder over, so it's worth a slow meander before you leave or hit the fancy La Coste café upstairs.
Joyce Pensato at Anne de Villepoix
The Brooklyn artist Joyce Pensato makes large-scale gestural dingbats of Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, teary moon eyes in bright enamel, either black on white or white on black. At first glance, her style echoes the matte, black-and-white stencil paintings of Christopher Wool. But Pensato's works are effortlessly hand-painted rather than mechanically stenciled, and Pensato has been at it longer than Wool. In the end, Pensato's work is raucous, ageless, unblocked and pretty darn good.
Herbert Brandl at Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot
Back in the early-to-mid 1980s, Herbert Brandl (who was born in 1958) ran with the Austrian Wild Painters (including Siegfried Anzinger, Otto Zitko, Hubert Scheibl, Hubert Schmalix). His paintings are moody, bare and solidly poetic. His style recalls that Per Kirkeby, or a smokier Gerhard Richter without one iota of detail, and the sparest kind of W.M.J. Turner with a whisper of Caspar David Friedrich. For me he's still king of that dwindled bunch of Oesterricher abstract dudes. His works are priced from 60,000 francs to just over 200,000 francs.
Jean-Luc Vilmouth at 13 quai voltaire
Along the Seine, over by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (which currently has a promising show of recent graduates), is a narrow exhibition space sponsored by the Caisse des Dépots -- a nearly inexplicable state depository that buys art and shows works it has and hasn't bought -- young artists and small installations one might not otherwise see. For "Jungle Science," the Beaux-Arts professor Jean-Luc Vilmouth used a green spotlight, a vapor generator, and sounds he'd recorded in the Amazon during two separate trips to transform the small space into a murky Amazon night. He all but made the difficult architecture disappear with this simple installation.
Douglas Gordon in Paris
The 1996 Turner Prize winner, Douglas Gordon, filters art through film and video. At the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, he crafted a big, not-exactly triumphal show. Gordon divided the foot of the arc into two entryways for a pair of 1998 works, projections onto softly back-lit scrims called Off Screen (red) and Off Screen (black one white) that seemed to lead to a few torpid videos of forearms on hospital beds. At the top of the arc was List of Names (1990), a wall of 1,440 listings from his address book -- he's well-known, so the list included some (presumably outdated) addresses of art stars.
Around the corner was Single Room with Bath (1998), a lonely claw-footed bathtub installed with continuously running faucet. My favorite was three simultaneous projections of the 1950 noir film D.O.A., screening at three different film speeds -- 23, 24 and 25 frames per second. The work is Gordon's version of a filmic chase scene, with each movie trying to catch up with the next.
Gordon also showed Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho at a running time of 24 hours, treating Hitchcock's work like the stunning masterpiece it is. Overall, the installation was nice, with beanbag chairs, mixed atmospheres, painted walls, lit curtains and a few joke pictures on the wall like the black-and-white photograph of a hitchhiker with the sign that reads, "Psycho Hitchhiker." If you consider remote-control zapping a contemporary form of on-the-road thumbing around, that about sums up this media-maven's show.
Stéphane Dafflon at Air de Paris
For his first one-man show, the Swiss artist Stéphane Dafflon built a glossy-enamel chamber with a rounded entry, like the portal in a ship's galley. Inside he hung several small abstract paintings, each done in a heavily designed hard-edge style, with flat grounds and soft geometric lines (prices start at around 6,000 francs). The paintings revamp 1950s design, and his use of installation takes painting beyond graphic illustration, resulting in a kind of quirky, ambient airport art.
JEFF RIAN is an editor of Purple magazine. He lives in Paris.