“AN IMAGE IS A NEGOTIATION OF TIME, the ability to say, ‘I agree to be with you,’ ” said Philippe Parreno as he stood before a floor-to-ceiling-length screen of a screeching infant at the Palais de Tokyo. Downstairs, Marilyn Monroe’s velvety voice echoed against that of Ann-Lee’s, the manga character to which Parreno and Pierre Huyghe famously purchased the rights in 2000: “Strangely enough I do not belong to anybody. . . I was never designed to survive.”
Around us, artists who dedicated themselves to the power of participation and institutional critique (Rirkrit Tiravanija, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Tino Sehgal), their dealers (Gavin Brown, Brian Butler, Esther Schipper, Pilar Corrias), and those who have bought their work (Maja Hoffmann, Philippe Ségalot, Patricia Marshall, Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner) streamed through the capacious space. Parreno likes to think of the exhibition as an automaton, something like Petruschka, a puppet made of straw and dust that comes to life and learns to have emotions. Holding the marionette strings is not Parreno but his friends, whose work he presents alongside his own—Liam Gillick’s piano, Gonzalez-Foerster’s bookshelf, Tiravanija’s truffles—as if these relationships were the lifeblood of his own work.
It is ironic that an exhibition predicated on contingency is taking place in a city famously trapped by time. “Paris is like Narcissus,” a German collector told me outside Huyghe’s exhibition at the Pompidou, which had opened the week prior. “Its lure is based on his watery grave. We come here to join him for a moment.” A skeletal white dog with a flash of pink painted on its leg darted by: Huyghe’s muse. Its handler was shortly behind, tugging the leash. The dog leapt onto a nearby woman who embraced him as he lapped a wet tongue over her cheek. His name is Human, and inside the confines of the institution, he is not allowed to be touched.
In another inspired institutional infiltration, Balice Hertling and Gió Marconi occupied the former Hôtel de Miramion, a sixteenth-century hôtel particulier, with an exhibition of contemporary art and historical design that opened later that night. A red carpet had been rolled out for the occasion, and guests included Kristin Scott Thomas, designer Riccardo Tisci, Setsuko Klossowski de Rola, curator Peter Eleey, and collector Tony Salamé. After the opening, a host of us ducked into Café de Flore to find art-intelligentsia spread about tables littered with bottles of wine and espresso cups: Frieze’s Amanda Sharp; artists Tiravanija, Sam Falls, and Neïl Beloufa; Bidoun’s Negar Azimi; and curators Aram Moshayedi and Piper Marshall. They were among many others I had seen on the Eurostar the day before, leaving London for a city of people who turn their nose up at money but who live out lives predicated on wealth.
“Paris is a post-bourgeois society,” said curator and doctoral candidate Zoe Stillpass over another dinner at Anahi, one of Paris’s best spots (verified by Ségalot), which is run by two dashing Argentinean women consistently dressed in Alaïa. “People here aren’t consumed with things. They have them. They’re interested in ideas.”
The city’s simultaneous revival of Parreno and Huyghe (completely coincidental, curators of both exhibitions said with conviction) points to an interest in the conceptual over the material, the poetics of experience over the object, and, chiefly, the capacity of the exhibition as a medium in itself. The questions that beset some artists who came of age in the early 1990s—can there be a film without a camera? A drawing without a line? An identity without a person? A piano without a player?—are worth revisiting today, a time that dealers of the 1980s tell me increasingly resembles the ’80s, and when the collectors of the ’90s shudder at the hysterical market for “young, hot artists.” A moment when artists are known less by their exhibitions than by the placement of their work in boxy convention-center stalls.
Left: Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, collecter Maja Hoffman, and curator Beatrix Ruff. Right: Artist Servane Mary.
“It’s a good time to be a painter,” one curator laughed. “Easy to ship, easy to display, easy to auction, and good for white walls.”
Like Paris, however, FIAC, which also opened that week, bills itself as a fair for the more conceptually minded. “It attracts people more interested in taste than the art market,” affirmed Lucy Chadwick of Gavin Brown. Indeed, many of the dealers exhibiting consciously opted out of Frieze, most notably the Germans (Isabella Bortolozzi, Esther Schipper, Neugerriemschneider, Galerie Neu) and New York’s downtown sect (Reena Spaulings, Ramiken Crucible, Algus Greenspon) as well as established figures like Paula Cooper. To be sure, the megagalleries were also there in force, lined up next to each in a sort of blue-chip supermarket (Zwirner, Gagosian, Pace, Perrotin).
As if to confirm that the image of Paris is only available to those with capital (cultural and monetary—but mostly monetary), most of the gatherings were held in tasteful apartments of collectors and artists. A dinner at the home of Cahiers d’Art’s Staffan Ahrenberg to celebrate a rare collection of Parreno drawings curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist; the much anticipated annual fete at Patricia Marshall’s; another at collector and dealer Patrick Seguin’s; a cocktail at Cindy Sherman’s pied-à-terre. And there were also the glittery-gritty parties that the Parisians do so well: Le Baron opened a new space, Mikadu; the David Lynch–designed Silencio included performances and sets by Haroon Mirza, Nate Looman, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Ryan Trecartin, and Lizzie Fitch. And who could forget Emmanuel Perrotin’s rave-ish affair in his new subterranean space? The air was choked with smoke, plastic cups of vodka were passed, and a man dressed as Mickey Mouse took the stage for the final set of a Naïve New Beaters performance.
“My parties are not for business, they are for pleaaasssssssuurree,” Perrotin told me as he bounced onto the dance floor.
Left: Palais de Tokyo director Jean de Loisy. Right: Dealers Alexander Hertling and Danielle Balice.
The next night I caught a train to Brussels, a city that, I am told, is to Paris what Berlin once was to Cologne. The occasion was Gedi Sibony’s opening at Barbara Gladstone’s townhouse, which includes her gallery and several bedrooms where artists like Rosemarie Trockel often come to quiet their minds.
“There is a huge tradition of collecting here. It’s not about being a billionaire hedge-funder like in London. People don’t wear their money; it goes on their wall. And rents are cheap; artists are flocking here,” the soigné dealer told me over a dinner filled with Belgium collectors.
Later that evening, Sibony and I left Max Falkenstein and others at Mr. Wong’s (the underground “it” spot, which will host its own pop-up during Art Basel Miami Beach) and wandered through Brussels’s downtown. Crowds spilled out of punk clubs, riled-up youth who had yet to learn that dawn has its consequences—and we decided that the first sign of age might be the realization of the irreconcilability of time.
“Do you believe in endings—happy ones?” I had asked Parreno at his opening earlier that week.
“I don’t think they exist,” he answered. His voice was especially soft, difficult to hear amid the chatter. “We are a bit blessed by him,” said Jean de Loisy, the Palais de Tokyo’s president, “which in French means to be wounded.” Westreich was profuse: “I can’t leave this place, I keep going back—I am afraid I will never see anything like it again.” It was as if Paris had pulled a clip of one of its most cinematic moments of artistic radicality to the center of its watery grave. Images, after all, don’t have codas.
“Then what does one strive for?” I asked.
He looked back at me matter-of-factly: “Moments of grace.”
Left: Palais de Tokyo curator Mouna Mekouar. Right: Dealers Francesca Kaufmann and Chiara Repetto, collector Paul McCabe.
Left: Curator Zoe Stillpass and artist Charles Mayton. Right: At Le Baron.
Left: Maria Baibakova, Alex Marshall, Sabrina Marshall, and Patricia Marshall. Right: Dealer Gió Marconi.
Left: Dealers Michael Fuchs, Andrew Kreps, Sadie Coles, and Pauline Daly. Right: Dealers Christine Messineo and Stefania Bortolami.
Left: Tino Sehgal’s Ann-Lee actresses. Right: MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey.
Left: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. Right: Dealer Lucy Chadwick and Thor Shannon.
Left: Artist John Armleder. Right: Artists Jim Shaw and David Maljkovic with dealers Jessie Washburn-Harris and Simon Lee.
Left: Dealer Almine Rech. Right: Dealers Max Falkenstein and Carol Greene.
Left: Dealers Brian Butler and Tim Neuger. Right: Dealer Jake Miller.
Left: Dealers Alexander Schroeder and Michael Callie. Right: Advisor Ashley Gail Harris and dealer Frédéric Bugada.
Left: Dealer Niklas Svennung with Musée d'Art Moderne curator Anne Dressen. Right: Karma International's Marina Leunberger and Karolina Dankow.
Left: Dealers Barthélémy Schöller and Valerie Chartrain. Right: Dealer Esther Schipper.