Out of Season


Left: “Printemps de Septembre” artistic director Jean-Marc Bustamante. Right: “Printemps de Septembre” president Marie-Thérèse Perrin. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)

It’s autumn, but that didn’t stop “Printemps de Septembre” from opening in Toulouse last week, and I ventured from Paris for the festivities. Started fifteen years ago in Cahors, this three-week festival/exhibition is quite popular in France. Traditionally oriented toward photography, it emancipated itself from medium specificity when it moved to Toulouse five years ago. Nevertheless, I was accompanied by a photographer, Mario Palmieri, when I boarded the shuttle plane that took me from Orly to rainy Toulouse, where I stepped into a shuttle minibus chartered by Claudine Colin Communication, one of Paris’s biggest PR agencies. The bus was necessary, as the event is spread across ten locations throughout the city. At the behest of artist Jean-Marc Bustamante—the festival’s artistic director for the past three years—together with Pascal Pique, director of contemporary art at Les Abattoirs, the local contemporary art center, and Mirjam Varadinis from the Kunsthaus Zürich, this year’s edition is clearly more international.

As is the tradition, before the marathon began we ate lunch by the banks of the Garonne River, on a boat moored beside a bridge decorated for the event by artist Peter Kogler. Festival president Marie-Thérèse Perrin (Mathé to her friends) greeted the artists who had completed the installation of their work, among them Lawrence Weiner, Joe Scanlan, Erik van Lieshout, and designers M/M (Paris)—inventors of the “Alphaline” alphabet used in the catalogue and in promotional material throughout the city. But it was soon time to reboard our minibuses and tour the festival’s sites, some historical and magnificent, like the Hôtel Dieu and the convent, some more recent and problematic, like the buildings owned by two sponsors, La Caisse d’Epargne and Electricité de France. Regarding the latter, even John Bock, who’s usually more than happy to fill up gigantic spaces with odds and ends, couldn’t make his mark on this uninspiring provincial “cultural” space. We roved about, sitting beside charming stars like Sarah Lucas, who was exhibiting a huge photograph that reads “Complete Arsehole.”

Under the thematic banner “Broken Lines,” the shows, which are “a project articulated around the notions of order and disorder,” present some monumental installations. Several of those are well known and not necessarily very recent; almost all have never before been seen in France: Anish Kapoor’s My Red Homeland, 2003, originally shown at the Kunsthaus Bregenz; Alex Hanimann’s gigantic cage filled with birds, produced by the MAMCO in Geneva; Andro Wekua’s revamping of a piece he first exhibited at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur and now owned by Greek collector Dakis Joannou; and Julian Rosefeldt’s Asylum, 2001, an outsize multiscreen projection initially presented at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof. Solo exhibitions also dotted the city map, including Olivier Blanckart’s, in a water tower, and Cathy de Monchaux’s—her first exhibition in quite a while—in an abandoned house.

Left: Artist Lawrence Weiner. Right: Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves's João Fernandes.

Some more discreet works are well worth the detour, like Lonnie van Brummelen’s wonderful films, screened in 35 mm, which use a documentary approach to report on the complex political situations surrounding some border crossings. Bustamante told me he had discovered van Brummelen last year in Amsterdam, when he was a jury member for the Prix de Rome, which she won. Elsewhere, with the help of the city’s symphony orchestra, French artist Laurent Montaron created a captivating site-specific piece about the wavering “La” that serves as a tone for mobile phones. Last but not least, Nedko Solakov laid siege to Les Abbatoirs' restrooms with witty graffiti as he did at P.S. 1 in 2001.

We were done with the tour just in time for the official opening, complete with mayoral speech, but I decided to skip the fanfare, including the performances organized by Isabelle Gaudefroy of the Fondation Cartier. (Cartier is one of the luxury-goods-company sponsors of the festival, as is Pommery champagne.) I later regretted the decision, as everyone was impressed by Forced Entertainment, one of the performers.

At 9 PM, we were treated to a cassoulet dinner under a tent. This year, the heads of many foreign institutions had been invited, and I ran into Simon Rees from the CAC in Vilnius, João Fernandes from the Serralves in Porto, Philippe Pirotte from the Kunsthalle Bern, and Nicolaus Schafhausen from the Witte de With in Rotterdam. Schafhausen is in charge of the German Pavilion at next year’s Venice Biennale, and he told me he was looking forward to having three women representing three important countries down the alley: Sophie Calle (France), Tracey Emin (Britain), and Isa Genzken (Germany).

Left: Witte de With director Nicolaus Schafhausen. Right: Artist Tatiana Trouvé.

At midnight, the artists stepped out into the graduation-party atmosphere of the crowd, comprising mostly students, enjoying a sound-and-light show. As for me, I was on my way to bed when I passed by the Saint-Sernin Basilica, the biggest Romanesque church in the Western world. I’d never heard of it, to the great dismay of Véronique Bacchetta from the Centre d’Édition Contemporaine in Geneva. “Ah, those Frenchmen, no culture at all!”

Left: Artist Andro Wekua. Right: M/M (Paris)'s Mathias Augustyniak.

Left: Artist Olivier Blanckart. Right: “Printemps de Septembre” cocurator Mirjam Varadinis.

Left: Artist Sarah Lucas. Right: Clément Rodzielski.

Left: M/M (Paris)'s Michael Amzalag. Right: “Printemps de Septembre” cocurator Pascal Pique.

Left: Kunsthalle Bern director Philippe Pirotte. Right: Artist Peter Kogler.

Left: Artists Ulla von Brandenburg and Laurent Montaron. Right: Artist Nedko Solakov.