Staying Alive

Kate Sutton around openings at the Pompidou and the Belleville Biennale

Left: Artists Gabriel Orozco and Agnès Varda with dealer Monica Manzutto. (Photo: Centre Pompdou) Right: Saâdane Afif's performance at the Pompidou. (Photo: Bérénice Rapegno)

ON TUESDAY, September 14, the Centre Pompidou debuted its two latest exhibitions: Gabriel Orozco’s traveling “Terra Cognita” and Prix Duchamp winner Saâdane Afif’s “An Anthology of Black Humor.” The latter—which borrows its title from the delirious omnibus by old-world delinquent André Breton—came off as a Dadaist eulogy for the Pompidou. Afif, something of a dark horse himself, had solicited acquaintances to contribute songs on Death and the Museum, which were then printed on gray walls. For the centerpiece, the artist commissioned Kudjoe Affutu—a Ghanese custom coffin maker, onetime assistant to Paa Joe—to create a replica of Renzo Piano’s iconic building (ribbed plastic water bottles standing in for the outdoor escalators). During the opening night performance, a set of stubby aluminum columns (mimicking those outside the museum) served as ad hoc soapboxes for two actors performing excerpts from the anthology. Lyrics ranged from Adam Carr’s cogitation “Today is yesterday’s tomorrow / Yesterday is today’s tomorrow” to Tacita Dean’s more direct “I’ve got to write a song for a skinny guy I know / Known him for quite a while and this writing’s for his show.”

If Afif’s “Black Humor” had sinister implications for the adjacent Orozco show—whose objects were already laid out Last Supper–style on two long wooden tables—everyone seemed to be laughing (smirking?) along with the artist. When I asked Pompidou director Alfred Pacquement how it felt to have basically attended a wake for his museum, he smiled gamely: “Let’s just hope it’s a lo-o-ong funeral.”

As the Dia crowd disappeared to the Orozco dinner, members of the ADIAF, which commissions the Prix Duchamp, ushered their (primarily sextagenarian) selves up the escalators for the last rites at Georges, where Galerie Michel Rein cohosted a dinner with organization president Gilles Fuchs. Champagne flutes and incomparable views of the city couldn’t help but stir softer sentiments for the museum, and revelers began to toast the Pompidou. May she live long and prosper.

Left: Dealer Daniele Balice. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: The Belleville Limo. (Photo: Yann Rondeau)

As the evening progressed, conversations kept circling back to Takashi Murakami’s “controversial” exhibition at Versailles. I had already caught some of the more vivid details—something about couture-clad guests pulled on stage by Pharrell Williams—from soiree survivors like writer Sean Rose and dealer Spencer Brownstone. Over a first course of crab legs, ADIAF collectors put down their napkins to whip out iPhones, sizing up one another’s snapshots from the night. (Later, one curator sniffed, “Well, it certainly wasn’t that way for everyone. The only thing I saw was a cash bar with bad champagne.”)

Shortly after, I ducked out with curator Jean-Max Colard to Théâtre du Châtelet, where the weekly culture vade mecum Les Inrockuptibles was celebrating its new “newsier” format. A crowd swelled in the square outside as Parisian VIPsters traded cigarettes and rumors that “due to an unspecified incident with Catherine Deneuve,” they weren’t letting anyone else into the party—not even Bernard Zekri, the director of the magazine itself. Not to be discouraged, we set up camp at the café next door with curator Claire Moulène and artists Wilfrid Almendra, Ida Tursic, and Wilfried Mille, keeping Argus eyes on the sidewalk for possible Deneuve sightings.

Once things began to quiet down, we set off to catch the last of the Orozco afterparty at Théâtre du Renard, where I joined Afif and artist Etienne Chambaud at a table by the dance floor. “Is it weird that it’s just Orozco’s dealers who are dancing?” filmmaker Fabrice Deville asked as I helped myself to his drink. I paused to admire dealer José Kuri’s ardor on the floor, before shifting my attention to the gallery girls, who had worked themselves into Delphic states. Of course, they obviously had something to celebrate. We decided it was time to move along, continuing our own inexplicable quest to close down every club we could find open on a Tuesday (with a Scarlett Johansson sighting at Montana nearly making up for the lack of Deneuve).

Left: Writer Sean Rose, Centre Pompidou-Metz director Laurent Le Bon, and French Ministry of Culture's Blanche Greenbaum-Salgas. Right: Artists Ida Tursic and Wilfried Mille. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

The next morning (that’s Parisian for “very late afternoon”), I drank enough coffee to get me over to the nineteenth and twentieth arrondissements, where the very first Biennale de Belleville was wrapping up its initial week. The program, organized by Zoo Galerie director Patrice Joly, mixes events at galleries and art nonprofits with lectures, conferences, and numerous public art commissions (such as Lang & Baumann’s photogenic street paintings, which lend a mellow-mushroom psychedelia to the rows of Chinese restaurants lining the boulevard).

Apparently, a fleet of “Belleville limousines” was taking visitors from site to site. (In lieu of payment, passengers describe their Biennale experience to cameras planted inside.) Alas, no rides were to be found in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where London gallery Simon Lee was celebrating a “swap” exhibition at Galerie Kreo, so by the time I made it to Le Plateau for that evening’s reception for the Biennale, the space was already packed.

Leaving the masses behind, I dropped by Bugada & Cargnel for Pierre Bismuth’s show, which replicates the gallery’s reception desk in the exhibition space. “It’s weird,” dealer Frédéric Bugada grinned. “People keep taking all those art newspapers and postcards, the stuff we normally have to throw out.” My last stop of the evening was a cocktail reception at Balice Hertling for its group show “Before and After,” which boasts works by Klara Liden, Lara Favaretto, and Roe Ethridge. I caught up with the crowd again just as they were adjourning to dinner at Ramona’s, a neighborhood gem tucked away on the second floor of a family-run convenience store. Picking at paella, I compared São Paolo Bienal layover options with curator Jennifer Teets and dealer Alexander Hertling, while the other half of the table began to draw up more devious lists, writing directly on the paper tablecloth. Meanwhile, I was making a list of my own, tallying all of the exhibitions I still wanted to catch before my flight the next “morning.”

Left: Le Plateau director Xavier Franceschi and artist Babi Badalov. Right: Michel Rein's Loic Chambon. (Photos: Kate Sutton)