“CONGRATULATIONS! IT’S PACKED!” I shouted to Magalie Meunier, assistant curator at Lyon’s Institut d’Art Contemporain (IAC), as we squeezed through the crowd at the opening of the exhibition “Rendez-Vous.”
The Lyon Biennial, now in its fourteenth edition, is the brainchild of Thierry Raspail, and “Rendez-Vous” is the section that he continues to cocurate. Since 2002, this part of the biennial has been a platform for promoting up-and-coming French artists and their equally dewy international counterparts, invited by the directors of ten biennials across the globe.
In the courtyard at IAC, this création internationale was presented entirely in French by its matrix of organizers. Thomas Teurlai, an alumnus of Lyon’s school of fine art, was honored for his masculine installation involving a filthy shower and strobe lights, and the crowd was introduced to Bose Krishnamachari and Jorge Fernández Torres, curators of the Kochi-Muziris and Havana Biennials, respectively, who had traveled many miles for the occasion. From Cuba, Torres selected artist Duniesky Martín, who here probes the collective memories of Cuban and American society through film synopses presented on six iPads.
I ran into Martín and Torres at the Musée d’Art Contemporain (MAC) in the company of the collector Francisca Viudes, who runs an artist’s residency in Nice. MAC is one of two main venues for the biennial, “Floating Worlds,” guest-curated by Emma Lavigne of Centre Pompidou Metz. Lavigne’s title references Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of “liquid modernity,” also a nod to the “modern” theme that defines this and the previous biennial. The works center around language, form, and music as they are made transient, or “liquid,” through the impact of time and the elements.
For a new work by Rivane Neuenschwander, titled Bataille, we followed the Brazilian artist’s invitation to piece together phrases from words beautifully woven onto scraps of fabric made to look like clothing labels. Also from Brazil, Viudes is alert to the ongoing ecological and ethnic crises caused by deforestation in the region. Fastened to her shawl were the words “Protect the people of the Amazon.”
The other half of Lavigne’s exhibition is at La Sucriére, a former sugar factory scenically located on a tip of land where the Saône and Rhône Rivers meet. With a massive sheet of silk, courtesy of Hans Haacke, flowing at its center, the space is dominated by white works of the same generation as the late Bauman. (As one French critic joked, “Floating Worlds” sometimes looks like an advertisement for laundry detergent.)
At Monday’s vernissage soiree, the whites were broken up by the circulation of Lyon’s characteristic pink praline cakes. Upstairs, Ari Benjamin Meyers had enlisted local art students for a band named the Art, which jammed their way through a themed track list, including the aptly titled “The Opening.” On the rooftop of the factory, Meyers’s indie rock was replaced by techno beats, and artists, curators, and critics alike threw their coats and tote bags in a pile and danced into the wee hours.
At three in the morning I made a French exit and, failing to find a taxi, left the remote location in a stranger’s rugged Renault. “I like to do coke and just drive around,” my chauffeur told me. Why not? A white-powdered finish to my bright night in Lyon.