PRINT September 1996


Musée de l’objet

THE RECENTLY INAUGURATED Musée de l’objet in Blois marks the first time a museum has been devoted solely to tracking the everyday object as tt appears, disappears, and reappears In 20th-century art. Situated In one of several buildings that comprise Blois’ École des Beaux-Arts, a former Minim convent, this stunning exhibition space was built in Just two years. Given the number of oddly interchangeable glitzy institutions that cropped up seemingly everywhere In the ’80s, the city of Blois should be commended for having chosen an already existing structure whose humble origins seem oddly appropriate to a museum dedicated to the object. Blois, too, seems a particularly apt location for such a venture. It was to this city on the banks of the Loire that French Revolutionary and founder of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers Abbe Grégoire, 19th-century conjurer Jean Eugène Robert Houdin (after whom Houdini christened himself), and the grand master of Surrealism, André Breton, were drawn; and it Is undeniable that each of these figures put his stamp on modernity by investing the object with, respectively, political, magical, and critical power.

The Musée de l’objet was born of a collaboration between passionate collector Eric Fabre, director of Gaierle de Paris, and Jack Lang, now mayor of the city of Blois, formerly the French Minister of Culture. Amassed over 15 years, Fabre’s collection, which he has placed on loan to the museum, is an eclectic one. It includes works by French Pop artists, Lettrists, members of Fluxus, Conceptual artists, the generation of English sculptors that came of age In the ’80s, as well as pieces by contemporary French artists such as Présence Panchounette, Jean-Luc Vilmouth, Richard Baquié, and Claude Lévêque. Despite the sheer number of “things” displayed here, there is no fetishization of the object In evidence: though many of the artists either make or work with objects, others (Joseph Kosuth, Art & Language, and so on) advocate their complete erasure.

Assembled on three floors, the collection offers a fascinating panorama of “stuff,” especially because It Includes no monumental or Installation-size works, with most pieces occupying no more space than an armchair. In displaying these artworks, Pierre Jean Galdin, the director of the school, played on the tension between proximity and distance, between unity based on resemblance and motley heterogeneity. In one exhibition space, plinths, rising from the center of each floor like a great pedestal, displayed a large number of disparate works arranged according to specific affinities rather than In chronological order. Unlike so many recent surveys that attempt to map contemporary artistic production across cultural boundaries, this collection tentatively suggests that the history of the quotidian object in 20th-century art remains, at least in spirit, a French one.

Jérôme Sans is a writer and curator living in Paris.

Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman.