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Frederick Kiesler: 
Multi-use Chairs and 
Rockers, 1942. 
Collection Ron Warren, 
New York.







Frederick Kiesler
City in Space, 1925.








The brochure for
L'Informe, with 
Robert Smithson's
 Glue Pour, 1969.





























































































































































Flyer for the 
Jeu de Paume, 
with Bill Woodrow's 
Bucket, Mop 
and Lobster, 1982. 





Damien Hirst
Mother and 
Child Divided, 
1993.



























 

Tony Cragg
Minster, 1987.












































Catalogue for 
"Monument and 
Modernity."


report from paris 

by Lewis Kachur



On the street side the Centre Georges 

Pompidou stands entirely shrouded in white 

tarp, which looks rather good. Has Christo 

returned? No, it's renovations to the 20-

year-old landmark. In a year's time, after 

a Léger retrospective, it will close for 

about two years of repairs.


But meanwhile the museum's shows go on, 

with a retrospective of Francis Bacon and a 

series of smaller and more focused 

exhibitions. Exemplary in this regard is 

Jean-Jacques Lebel's Picabia show. 

Retrieving a moment in history, 

the exhibition is a reconstruction of the 

artist's 1922 Dalmau Gallery show of works 

on paper. Modernist machine images 

commingled with reactionary-looking 

"espagnoles": Spanish women with mantillas, 

virtually tourist art. All are leveled, 

presented with equal importance, as the 

artist originally wanted. The effect is one 

of Picabia as seen from across a 

Postmodernist chasm but yet, paradoxically, 

the "true" Picabia of the era.


Lebel is himself a Fluxus-era artist, well-

known in the French art scene. It seems 

fitting, then, that concurrent with his 

curatorial effort he also had on view two 

separate gallery shows of his own object 

sculptures. Most notable was an 

installation at the Galerie de Paris, where 

Lebel effectively used hung hammers and 

handbags overhead to transform a staircase 

into a very gendered installation entitled 

Homage to André Breton. Breton's centenary, 

as well as Tzara's, were both celebrated 

this year and were marked by symposia this 

summer. Yet another 100th anniversary of the

French modernist, André Masson, was 

commemorated by an exhibition of early 

works at Galerie Leiris.


The Frederick Kiesler exhibition [to Oct. 

21st] metamorphosed the Pompidou's 

mezzanine gallery into an appropriately 

Kiesleresque space: open and continuous, 

with arced wooden partitions. The show, 

including many drawings and vintage 

photographs, spanned the entire career of 

the Romanian-born avant-garde architect and 

designer (he died in 1965 and was given a 

retrospective by the Whitney in 1989). 

Several items stood out: a model for a 

theater in Woodstock constructed after his 

designs; his multifunctional chair/bases 

for Peggy Guggenheim's Art of this Century 

Gallery, glowing in cream and turquoise; 

and a drawing for multicolored glass 

windows for the Endless House that refract 

different hues as the sun moves across the 

sky. In short, there's a lot more color in 

Kiesler than is conveyed by the usual black 

and whites.
 

At the opening there was talk of the sale 

of the Kiesler archives to Vienna as a done 

deal, although not all the money has yet 

been raised in Austria. In the current plan 

the drawings would go to the Albertina, 

with the rest housed elsewhere.


L'informe: mode d'emploi is the show one 

hears about most in New York [to Aug. 

26], but tucked away in a corner of the 

center, it appears sparsely attended and 

commented. The exhibition frames the notion 

of the "unformed" as a paradigm, beginning 

with the work of Surrealist Georges 

Bataille and tracing it through 

contemporary artists such as Mike Kelley, 

Cindy Sherman and Alan McCollum. The 

catalogue, more expansive than the show, 

allows critic-curators Yve-Alain Bois and 

Rosalind Krauss to present their own 

dictionnaire abrégé, an a-to-z dictionary-

type listing (as opposed to a group of 

essays) that is a nod to the Surrealists, 

who did one for their famous 1938 

exhibition. The show's conception is 

another instance of the recent interest in 

Bataille's writings, which are also the 

subject of a new book by Didi-Huberman.


Bois and Krauss locate the forerunners of 

some contemporary issues in the `30s, 

perhaps inadvertently exemplifying the 

current interest in Surrealism. And there 

are nice moments to be seen: some offbeat 

`30s Picassos, Duchamp's couverture-

cigarettes colored photo, Arman's early 

trash accumulations. There is also an 

interesting confluence of real estate as 

art media, notably by Ed Ruscha, Gordon 

Matta-Clark and Hans Haacke. Yet the 

organizers aim for much more: "both an 

assessment of modern art and a putting into 

crisis of its history as it has been 

written."
 

Beyond the paradox of "forming" an 

exhibition on the formless, the co-

organizers seem to have given little 

thought to their institutional framework. 

Similarly they overlook their chosen 

artists' relations to art systems and the 

gallery cube. Thus Duchamp's "Mile of 

String" installation of 1942, an ultimate 

Informe in which the artist stretched a 

skein of string throughout an otherwise 

ordinary exhibition, is not represented. 

(Though Duchamp, and Picasso, are the 

presiding historical deities.) So, too, 

Robert Smithson's entropy is presented as 

concept, not anti-institutional gesture. 

Likewise, sculpture's tendency to abandon 

the preciousness of the base for the floor 

or even wider, uncontainable spaces, is 

ascribed to the curatorial category of 

"horizontality," and not to a critique of 

the sacrosanct art object. In other words, 

works by the Arman that collect the 

mailings and announcements of a leading 

critic, or the trash from a prominent 

gallery, may have as much to do with 

meaning as with a Noveau Realiste idea of 

entropy.


The actual blockbuster at the Pompidou is a 

retrospective of Francis Bacon in the fifth 

floor galleries [to Oct. 14], some 80 

paintings of which 16 are triptychs. In 

day-lit spaces, with almost all the 

pictures glazed, one has a devilish time 

finding an unoccupied, non-reflecting 

vantage. But this is a powerful show, 

nonetheless, especially in the works of the 

late `40s and early `50s. There smeared, 

humanoid beasts are placed next to an 

implacable measuring stick. The rarity of 

an accomplished painter of male flesh 

collides with the signs of abhorrence of 

that flesh. Still, perhaps for relief, I 

found myself also noticing how often Bacon 

plays spatial illusion against absolute 

flatness. The chair often generates a cubic 

box, containing a figure, yet also enclosed 

against the surrounding two dimensional 

void. This formal drama has its existential 

pathos, as well. In the best of the 

paintings, the human drama and the 

pictorial one are at a standoff, or equally 

compelling.


It begins to seem an English season in 

Paris, with the "Century of British 

Sculpture" at the Jeu de Paume [to Sept. 

15th]. The title is a bit of false 

advertising, since the show is basically 

"Henry Moore and after." The sculptors are 

familiar; most of them were shown in the 

U.S. in the exhibition "A Quiet Revolution" 

(at the Chicago MCA and the San Francisco 

MoMA in 1987), and the more recent 

sensations Rachel Whiteread and Damien 

Hirst have been seen in Soho. But 

apparently this is the first time the 

English have been trucked to Paris, via 

Chunnel no doubt. Predictably, Hirst's 

halved cows were immediately dubbed "the 

only British beef allowed into France." 


Curator Daniel Abadie did well with the 

long, narrow and not vast spaces, which 

necessitated an abbreviated sampling of 

each sculptor, but made interconnections 

clearer. The show begins with an 

impressively pristine room grouping the 

confluence of Moore, Ben Nicholson and 

Barbara Hepworth in their purist 

abstractions of the 1930s. Their 

geometricism reappeared in one of Anthony 

Caro's table pieces, while one of Moore's 

devouring forms was echoed later by Richard 

Deacon's The Eye Has It. (The French see 

Caro as a key figure who led to an 

"Americanized" modernism in Britain.) 

Another highlight of the installation was 

the small whimsical pieces by Bill Woodrow, 

such as a metal camera, ingeniously placed. 

On the other hand the separate rooms of 

Anish Kapoor and Anthony Gormley did not 

work out well. In general artists were 

represented by their early signature works. 

So one saw Caro and Phillip King of the 

1960s, Tony Cragg, Deacon and Woodrow of 

the early `80s, and not their most recent 

production.


A happy idea was to include one outdoor 

work by each monumentalist. The metallic 

towers of Cragg's craggy Minster (1987) 

foiled the stone architecture nicely, while 

a multi-colored Edouard Paolozzi brought a 

whiff of `60s mod London. Others risked 

being swallowed by the Tuilleries, or 

dwarfed by the ferris wheel of the circus 

that camped nearby. 


Indeed, contemporary sculpture out of doors 

was embraced by Paris. Taking a page from 

Park Avenue, the city of Paris sponsored an 

enfilade along the Champs Elysees which 

attracted a lot of attention. Wooden 

boardwalk-like bases and a conservative 

selection hampered this effort, although at 

the Concorde end some good pieces by Arman, 

Louise Bourgeois, etc. made it worthwhile. 

The city of Paris is admirably active, 

having also just opened the capital's first 

museum devoted to photography, in a 

renovated Hotel extended by Yves Lion. 


Another public sculpture show, sponsored by 

the Ministry of Culture, was announced all 

over town by a red poster of Barbara 

Kruger's famous finger-held card 

proclaiming "Monument and Modernity." 

Electra Space, an exhibition hall, surveyed 

the history of public commissions since 

Rodin, while the Luxembourg Museum 

documented projects of the `90s. Artist 

Yannick Gonzalez bid spectators to walk 

between the two 6th arrondisement sites 

with his giveaway red cotton caps, not bad 

for the prevalent rain showers.


A surprising plethora of public sculpture 

has spread all over France, to judge from 

the photopanels and maquettes at the 

Luxembourg. New Bourgeois pods hang from 

the trees in Choisy-le-Roi, an obdurate 

Serra cube blocks the church square of 

Chagny. A Jonathan Borofsky woman walks 

toward the sky in Strasbourg, where Mario 

Merz's Fibonacci numbers line the tramway 

and Kruger's phrases appear in the train 

station. I was struck by the number of 

word-related pieces, from Ben's wall of 

words in Blois to Joseph Kosuth's 

hieroglyphic and Greek slab laid in the 

well-named Place des Ecritures, Figeac. 

Responding to the French love of language, 

non? But while the regions flourish, of the 

28 pieces the "Monument and Modernity" 

catalogue lists in Paris, the most recent 

date to 1994. And the most successful 

remains Jean Tinguely and Nikki Saint-

Phalle's Stravinsky Fountain (1983), 

outside that rusty old Pompidou.


Lewis Kachur is New York art historian and 

critic, who recently returned from a trip 

to Paris.



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