As the July extravaganza of the Paris Men's Shows, as well as the next installment of The Coutures loom , I would suggest to all those converging fashion nomads that they go confront the blockbuster Palais de Tokyo Trianniale show, “Intense Proximité". I saw it at its opening in April and returned again in late May only to find myself compelled to plan a third visit. Why? Because this Palais de Tokyo show as curated by Okwi Enwesor ( and co-curated by Abdellah Karroum, Emilie Renard, Mélanie Bouteloup and Claire Staebler) confronts and anlayses not only contemporary art culture, but more notably French cultural production in a way that makes the external internal, the marginal, centralized and the political incredibly chic. Well the last three words make particular sense in France, that strange and bewildering society I find myself increasingly fascinated by.
Palais de Tokyo, which has almost tripled in size ( from 8,000 to 22,000 square meters), is now a 4 story exercise in scale, power and visual intelligence , rendering it Europe's largest art space. Grandeur is not a new proposition in the aesthetic vocabulary of Paris but roughness is . And the single most brilliant thing about "Intense Proximite" to my mind, is the way this mammoth space subverts the instinctive refinement and polish particular to this city. This show presents a palace of rubble and deconstruction, reconstruction and recontextulaization. If it sounds like I'm reviewing a a space and not a show, that's not meant to be disrespectful. It is rather to acknowledge the brilliance of the strategy of assembling in such a de-stabalized zone, a body of contemporary artists that celebrate globalization, mingling Anglo, American, European and African artists with the indigenous French creators.
The 50 works from artists such as Annette Messager (whose installation is a delightful crowd pleaser), El Anatsui, Isaac Julien , Chris Ofili, Christian Marclay and Camille Henrot negotiate the ideas around Okwi Enwesor proposals concerning ethnography, immigration and the way decades of globalization has shifted our borders of identity. As the curator stated to the NY Times in advance of the show's unveiling, “ “Ethnography is not just a form of scientific description of the customs and lives of supposedly distant cultures and peoples. It is, at its core, a concept of writing, of distillation.”
Working in fashion is its own kind of ethnographic exploration, even when you don't want to plomp such a big idea around your tissue thin industry. If only to be "a la mode", slumming through this show is a very good idea, not only for the experience of the space and the judicious way in which video, installation, sound work, sculpture and painting is scattered through the cavernous industrial wastes of The Palais , but for other superficial joys as well.
The people watching is pretty fascinating and clearly ethnographic in a way that Levi Struass would have appreciated. On my second visit, there was the visual treat of a young trophy wife in a canary yellow Chanel suit carefully traipsing under Peter Buggenhout's menacing sculpture , "The Blind Leading the Blind" . Then there was a beautiful metisse boy with tangled dreadlocks stalking barefoot through the exhibition halls as well as the awestruck hordes of art academics trying to process all this controlled destruction and organized chaos in the name of latter day art.
Described as "rebellious", "undeveloped" and "antimuseum par excellence" the Triennale is the exhibition that, beyond being the single most moving show I've seen all year, is in fact something you should see just for its possible stake in cultural history.
In time we might well think, "Something new started here".