PRINT September 1985


THE PARC LULLIN, IN GENTHOD, near Geneva, is a generous 18th-century park extending over a gently inclined meadow, and through a small patch of thick forest, from a villa at the highest point of the town to the shores of Lac Leman. It is one of those mildly domesticated landscapes as conducive to pleasure as to thought, a place that flatters the senses and creates in the visitor a feeling of contemplative relaxation. Here, the pursuit of an idea easily ends in a digression, and digression quite matter-of-factly intensifies into perception. But though the Pare Lullin often conjures up rêverie in Jean Jacques Rousseau’s sense of the word, it is by no means a place of nostalgic seclusion, for it is not only crossed by a highway and a train line but also lies below the airplane landing approach to the nearby Cointrin airport. As one’s position in the park changes, the bustle of the area’s traffic comes through either as a backdrop of sound or as a visual counterpoint to the temporally removed poetry of the genius loci. A walk through the park, then, is a walk through a world no longer intact, and leads to the awareness of a painful loss.

This basic mood of melancholy, with its connotations of a "paradise lost,’’ actually heightened the nuances of serenity afforded the works of art that were dotted about in the park to compose the “Promenades” exhibition. And these works were largely dependent for an audience on musing walkers and sympathetic strollers, since the show was not a sculpture display in the usual sense, but rather a scattered staging of discrete site-related works. With a few exceptions, its 35 European and American artists, brought together by Adelina von Fürstenberg, director of Geneva’s Centre d’Art Contemporain, conceived their contributions with the park in mind, and showed a restraint and a respect for nature that were absolutely programmatic in effect. The most monumental work in the exhibition, Mario Merz’s II numero ingrassa (come) i frutti d’estate e Ie foglie abbondanti 1,1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 (The Number grows fat [like] summer fruits and abundant leaves 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55; 1974–85), a progressive sequence of table pieces, appeared as a conspicuous mark in the landscape when seen from the air as one flew into Cointrin; from the ground, however, its green supports and red surfaces seemed almost to float in the sloping meadow. The works in “Promenades” were in no real way concealed, but their subtle integration into the ambience of the park gave the show a generous nonchalance, leaving one’s route around the art undetermined, so that for discovery one relied largely on one’s own intuition, on one’s own readiness to look and think.

Between two trees on the path through the forest Pat Steir hung one large and one smaller nylon panel—airily animated, diaphanous canvases whose sparse painted images closely conformed to their environment in motif and coloration. The paintings—implied branches and foliage, birds—became a kind of screen for the forest’s play of light and shadow, a canvas on which manifestations of nature were poetically interwoven with the strategies of artistic fiction. On the drawing for this work, Steir had noted, “Not seen unless looked for / Not looked for unless seen / Something seen as present / Which is not present / Some thing ordinary which is / Extraordinary—Some thing / Not natural which seems natural. . . . ” These remarks, beyond their special meaning in reference to Steir’s piece, accurately characterize many of the works that were shown in “Promenades.’’ Meret Oppenheim’s Radeau (Raft), for example, was a small board with a mast and a tattered flag in gold—a kind of fin to drive this tiny vessel of horror and hope over the enchanted pool, supplied with frogs and a plastic snake, in which it floated. And the organic form and barklike surface of the bronze section of Giuseppe Penone’s three-part Grande Gesto Vegetale (Large vegetable gesture) blended harmoniously with the drooping branch of the tree above the piece, in a heightening of similarity that disclosed difference. Jakob Mattner, in Die Spur der Daphné im Zwielicht des Park Lullin (The Trail of Daphne in the twilight of the Pare Lullin), gilded the living branch of a walnut tree to a delicate brilliance, and Roger Ackling’s Two Thousand Moments, a bundle of small sticks, which Ackling called “moment sticks,” randomly scattered in the undergrowth, had likewise to be really tracked down; but whether one found the sun-charred sticks or not, the energy invested in them remained present in the communication of these pointed brands with their surroundings. Giulio Paolini’s Dove (Where, 1967–85) consisted of the letters D, O, V. and E, formed in Plexiglas and propped in a circle against the trees around a small clearing. Although the letters basically described the four points of the compass, they mercilessly interrogated the “where” in question until the viewer in the circling whirl of looking started to experience “seeing” (the Italian vedo, “I see”) where there was nothing to be seen. Max Neuhaus’ Sound Installation filled the long bleak tunnel that runs beneath the road and the railroad tracks, connecting the separate halves of the park, with modulated, subtly unreal environmental sounds like the chirping of crickets. The journey through the darkness became an enlightenment.

Of course there were more declarative works in “Promenades," but rather than simply using the park as a frame for their own magnificence, these too became components of the landscape. In Vito Acconci’s Bodies in the Park perhaps one could even see a slyly ironic commentary on the mimicry with which art withdrew into nature in the show. But Acconci’s humanoid garden furniture in artificial grass and artificial leafage also fitted naturally into its site-an invigorating place for weary strollers and children to rest or to play Marco Bagnoli’s airily light icosahedral structure stood in self-aware modesty beside a big copper beech, while Rebecca Hom’s Bad der verspiegelten Tautropfen (Bath of mirrored dewdrops) buried itself into the ground at the center of a mowed circle of meadow, appearing on the surface only as a hexagonal glass plate. Dew collected and condensed on the underside of the glass, its thousands of pearls reflecting the play of the clouds. Gilberto Zorio’s Canoa, a large broken canoe suspended in air as if tom in a dynamic imbalance, hung threateningly but elegantly above the forest path. So did John Armleder’s three chairs, clownishly mounted in trees at a dizzying height, like high seats for an imaginary diplomatic conference- an interpretation that may have. informed the placement below of three white cannonballs, which almost vanished into the thicket. Luciano Fabro’s Paolo Uccello, a pair of large suspended iron frames that formed a reflection on perspective and on the pleasure or appropriateness of a regulating order in itself. floated into view in one of the park’s open avenues ; its conscious placement against the monumentality of the Alps was witty as well as ambitious in terms of design. And despite the pathos of Anne and Patrick Poirier’s Petite mise en scène sans musique au bord de l’eau (Small mise-en-scène, without music, by the water)—a work of mythological theatricalism in which two classical figures stood in the shallow water near the lake shore, with a horse and lightning bolt supplying narrative trappings in the trees behind them—the piece was utterly credible in the context of “Promenades” as a whole.

Here everything was digression, and ultimately the images, beyond their hermetic presence, were illusions that referred to other dimensions. Silvie and Cherif Defraoui, for example, in Bifurcation, marked a path that drifted off the main track only to end in the shape of a primeval lizard, in tar, its nose pointing to a gently arced marble half-moon; through a dense chain of associations, and in the shadows of the big cedar under which its meager symbols lay, the work evoked the night. “Promenades’’ likewise, was more an idea than an exhibition, but the idea could only be formulated as an exhibition, for the images conjured up here were not reproductions of the world of appearances but real pictures of the imagination. In other words, they really comprised a revêrie. Markus Raetz’s Vue (Seen) strikingly illustrated just how fragile this daydream of image and reality can be. A round mirror on a pedestal reflected the forest and the curious visitor, it corresponded with three other mirrors mounted nearby. Etched into each of these latter was a different symbol, a “blind” symbol which did not constitute a clear form. To the viewer in a certain position, however, these fragmented symbols came together in the first mirror as an oval image of a female torso-a figure whose speculative unreality was made still more uncertain by its echo of Duchamp’s In the Manner of Delvaux, 1942, a work that in turn harks back to Paul Delvaux’s Break of Day, 1937. That dryadic image, of course, returns us to the forest and the four pedestals.

The process of wandering set up by “Promenades” was a beautiful one, for it repeatedly turned into a round dance in which images united in a continuity between beginning and end, a closing of the circle. It was a round dance that could be achieved only through teamwork, each artist contributing his or her own music, but with a feeling and sense for the whole. And since I saw the participants as a team, perhaps I should make at least some mention of those I have not discussed: Alighiero Boetti, Braco Dimitrijevic, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Per Kirkeby, Joseph Kosuth, Marisa Merz, Matt Mullican, Maria Nordman, Carmen Perrin, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Sarkis, Anne Sauser-Hall, Etore Spalletti, Jean Stern, and Catherine Willis.

Max Wechsler writes regularly for Artforum.

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.