Court Appearance


Left: Artist Seton Smith with Centre Pompidou curator Christine Van Assche. Right: Architect IM Pei.

“Joy to the world! The child is (finally) come,” sung with audible relief, could have been the theme for last weekend’s very formal opening of the much-delayed Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, commonly known as the MUDAM Luxembourg, in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess and fellow travelers in the international Gotha. Shortly after climbing aboard the new TGV East train, decked out in red and pink by Christian Lacroix but missing air conditioning, I ran into Pompidou curator Christine van Assche and artist Seton Smith, and wasted no time in suggesting we share a taxi upon our afternoon arrival. We would have to hurry if we wanted to attend the press preview before the museum closed at 4 PM in order to prepare for the next day’s official opening.

I won’t recount the details of everyone’s talk that day—suffice it to say it focused on the difficulties that plagued the construction of the IM Pei-designed building and could be summed up as a dispute between the Ancients and the Moderns. The massive structure is now solidly set on a hill facing the city, and its multiple glass pyramids brought to mind Pei’s work at the Louvre. There is a “very Da Vinci Code” feel to it, according to a Flemish man I spoke to: “One triangle pointing up, and another pointing down!” The French woman at the helm of this ship, Marie-Claude Beaud, previously in charge of the Fondation Cartier and, before that, the American Center, greeted visitors by repeating over and over: “We have to seduce, we absolutely have to charm people!”

Left: Grand Duc Jean du Luxembourg arrives in his car. Right: MUDAM director Marie-Claude Beaud.

For “Eldorado,” the opening exhibition, Beaud invited American artist Gaylen Gerber to devise a minimal, delicate way of hanging works both in the collection and on loan from collectors. In his installation, paintings by Kay Rosen, Sam Salisbury, Charles Irvin, and Michelle Grabner seem to respond to sentences on the canvases of Rémy Zaugg, who was scheduled to take part in the event before he passed away last year. On the lower floors, I wandered through very large, professionally presented installations by Pipilotti Rist, James Coleman, Nari Ward, Andrea Blum, Tobias Putrih, Sancho Silva, and even a chapel created by Wim Delvoye. Though dubbed “Moderne,” the Museum’s collection is exclusively contemporary, its earliest pieces dating back only to the 1980s.

At a coffee shop created by the Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec (many of the museum’s rooms are filled with the work of designers, including Martin Szekely and Konstantin Grcic), I chugged a glass of coconut milk flavored with mint before hopping onto a bus ferrying museum guests to other events associated with the grand opening. I started at the city’s biggest private gallery, Beaumontpublic, where director Martine Schneider-Speller gushed “We’ve been waiting fifteen years for this—we have to celebrate!” She did so in her own way, with “Watch Out,” a group show featuring her favorite artists: Martin Kippenberger, Jonathan Meese, Jenny Holzer, and Marina Abramovic, the last represented by one of her “Balkan Erotic Epic” videos, in which men in traditional costumes go head-to-head in an erection competition.

Left: Tate Modern director Sir Nicholas Serota. Right: Collector Jacques Salomon.

Our options for dinner included the Banque du Luxembourg and the private garden of a collector’s villa. I didn’t hesitate in choosing the villa. There I was happy to find myself among the art world’s curatorial brain trust, from Carmen Giménez to Sir Nicholas Serota, Yuko Hasegawa to Robert Storr. MUDAM curator Björn Dahlström and his “at large” counterparts Claude Closky and Mark Lewis also greeted collectors Alain Dominique Perrin of the Fondation Cartier and Annick and Anton Herbert, and artists represented in the museum’s collection (Pierre Bismuth’s Mafioso look was particularly becoming).

Later that evening, the same crowd moved to a different scene: The Casino Luxembourg, a place well known for its repeated discovery of new artists. Artistic Director Enrico Lunghi was previewing an exhibition called “Tell Me,” which ended with a “silent” dance party in the cellar—the youngish crowd gyrated to music played through wireless headphones. I didn’t stay too late, as I was delighted to have finally received a pass for the next morning’s official opening, at which reporters (and artists) were requested to appear on time for the arrival of the Grand Duke Jean.

Left: Guggenheim curator Carmen Giménez. Right: Art Basel VIP coordinator Isabela Mora with curator Yuko Hasegawa.

As I arrived, helicopters hovering overhead and heavily armed guards stationed on the museum roof ensured that the press stayed behind the security cordon. Papparazzo shouted, “Your Highness, please look this way!” or “Your Most Serene, please look right here!” The woman beside me held a schedule of official arrivals, but when I asked her to identify the dignitaries, she invariably replied that she wasn’t sure: “There’s the Norwegian and Swedish courts, the ruling and non-ruling families, Fabiola de Belgique, and also the Jordanian royal family I believe.” I did, however, recognize Albert de Monaco.

I had never attended a blue-blood opening, and though it seemed a little like a mass—the ecclesiastical authorities had also been invited—I was actually surprised to find out that, after all, this other class was quite a bit like you and I. (Well, maybe not as well-dressed.) I even overheard one distinguished visitor suggest that he, too, thinks that, “prices today are a little over the top.”

Nicolas Trembley

Left: Artist Gaylen Gerber. Right: A view of Gaylen Gerber's part of the exhibition.

Left: Collector and editor Myriam Salomon. Right: MUDAM curator Björn Dahlström.

Left: Artist and curator Mark Lewis. Right: Beaumontpublic director Martine Schneider-Speller.

Left: Collector Melva Bucksbaum. Right: Artist and curator Claude Closky.

Left: Collector Annick Herbert. Right: Collector Anton Herbert.

Left: Casino Luxembourg artistic director Enrico Lunghi. Right: Artist Wim Delvoye.

Left: Artist Miri Segal. Right: Artist Tobias Putrih.

Left: Photographer Joel Tettamanti. Right: Dealer Erna Hecey.