Poster Children

Nicolas Trembley on “Translation”


Left: Silke Taproggle, Jérôme Sans, and Nicolas Bourriaud. Right: Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag.

Posters! Posters everywhere! That was my first impression upon walking into “Translation,” the new show at the Palais de Tokyo, where blue-chip contemporary art from the Dakis Joannou Collection shares the galleries with the work of French graphic design duo M/M Paris, of Bjork album-cover fame. The result of this art-design pairing? According to the press kit, it’s a “unique exhibition experience” aimed at defining a new kind of “altermodernism,” one that resists cultural and economic standardization and instead articulates “a mutant form of creole culture.”

“Haphazard and unplanned, that’s the way we work here,” explained Jérôme Sans, one of the Palais de Tokyo’s two directors. “The idea came up when we were planning two shows”—one with M/M Paris and one of major artworks from Greek tycoon Joannou’s collection. “In the end, we asked Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustiniak”—the two M’s in M/M Paris—“to display the collection with their own design work.”

It’s a very Warholian move: Superimposing artworks over posters and carpets in an attempt to make formal connections or bring together topics that otherwise have little in common. For example: A dress by Yinka Shonibare with a Balenciaga advertisement; a strange, primitive, organic Ashley Bickerton sculpture with a series of posters produced for the Theatre de Lorient; and a supersized Vanessa Beecroft photo with images from a Calvin Klein ad campaign. The show is refreshing and certainly unique, even if I still think that abstraction—which the press release dismisses as high modernism’s failed attempt at a formulating a “universal language”—has not been thoroughly digested by art history and could use a little more elucidation. But then again, minimal abstract modernism is certainly neither M/M nor Jouannou’s cup of tea, so this probably isn’t the place for such a discussion.

Left: Jeffrey Deitch. Middle: Takashi Murakami. Right: Dakis Joannou.

I tried to imagine how Joannou’s collection would have looked without the M/M decor. “Just normal, as usual,” concluded French critic Eric Troncy, whose own shows often employ risky, narrative display strategies. In fact, it almost seemed that the posters—which are fucking great—were sometimes better than the artworks themselves. Who wins in a face-off between Guo-Qiang Cai’s sculpture (a sort of wooden flying machine) and Dominique Gonzalez Foerster’s “Cosmodrome” poster? Further questions: Are posters artworks? Are designers artists? I forgot to ask.

Alison Gingeras—one of the curators of “Monument to Now,” which presented part of Joannou’s collection at his DESTE Foundation in Athens last year—added that she was amazed that some pieces that didn’t work that well in Athens look great here. For example, in one gallery, Nari Ward’s accumulation of baby buggies, music by Mahalia Jackson, a Christopher Wool text painting, and “Utopia of Flows” posters (made by artists including Liam Gillick, Thomas Hirschhorn, and John Baldessari for “Utopia Station” at the 2003 Venice Biennale) were all piled up like ingredients in a Big Mac. Somehow it works.

I wondered if the artists were OK with all this. “I don’t know, we didn’t ask them,” said Amzalag. “It’s a private collection. We can do what we want.” But the artists in attendance seemed happy enough. Michael Bevilacqua didn’t mind that his piece was next to works made by Australian aboriginal artist Ningura Napurrula and Shahzia Sikander’s Persian miniatures, which themselves were mounted on posters featuring strange, funny figure drawings. Talk about multicultural connections.

The laid-back afternoon preview for members of the press and VIPs was atypical for the Palais de Tokyo; the museum’s public vernissage would not take place until later Wednesday evening. Jeff Koons played dad, pushing a buggy around the show, and was nonchalant upon discovering his stainless steel version of a Mylar balloon (Moon, 1994-2000) reflecting a series of posters based on the number Pi produced by M/M in collaboration with Dutch fashion photographers Inez van Lamsveerde and Vinoodh Matadin. (“I never know how to pronounce that,” commented a museum educator.) Underfoot was a carpet by Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe originally designed for Etienne Marcel, a Paris restaurant.

Left: Installation view with Jeff Koons's Moon, 1994-2000. Middle: Piotr Uklanski. Right: Michael Bevilacqua.

As usual, Takashi Murakami was followed by a TV crew—Arte, the French network, this time—but the artist seems comfortable with the attention. His dealer, Emmanuel Perrotin, was perhaps the only stressed person at the preview, nervous that Inochi, Murakami’s sculpture and a recent addition to the Joannou collection, was not protected well enough. “Well, it costs between €500,000 and €1,000,000 in an edition of three,” said Silke Taproggle, a Blum & Poe director in town from L.A. (The gallery produced Murakami’s film starring the super-skinny alien boy.) “Look at its anus,” said Perrotin, “So strange!” “Who,” I asked. “Silke or Takashi?” “No! Inochi!”

Piotr Uklanski seemed very happy too, and introduced me to Staffan Ahrenberg, who produced Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic and who is helping the artist on his upcoming feature-length Western. Gingeras introduced Hans Ulrich Obrist to Bill Bell, the famous west coast soap opera producer, collector, and friend of Jeff Koons who recently asked Tadao Ando to design a house for him in Malibu. Ando perhaps has time for a new commission or two, since it was he who was designing the ill-fated Pinault Foundation in Boulogne before Monsieur Pinault, fed up with the French bureaucracy, announced he was taking his collection to Venice. We were all thinking about the statement released that morning by French Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, hinting that he might be willing to fund the renovation of the unfinished Palais so that Pinault’s collection could be installed there, at least temporarily.

But as Sans pointed out vis-à-vis the 30,000 square feet of still-raw space: “It looks like Beirut and will take at least two years to complete.” In the meantime, “Translation” is a great show.