PRINT September 1998

World Report

the Festival d’Automne

FOR LAST YEAR’S FESTIVAL D’AUTOMNE in Paris, guest artist Tadashi Kawamata stacked 7,000 chairs into a 30-foot scaffolded tower beneath the dome of the Salpêtrière Hospital’s St. Louis Chapel. This month—with the floor of the venerable seventeenth-century structure reinforced to accommodate the proceedings—Anish Kapoor is installing three of his giant tinted mirrors and a beige stone sculpture. The five—ton work will be on view from September 18 to November 1.

Founded in 1972 by Michel Guy (a mythical figure on France’s post–Malraux, pre–Jack Lang cultural scene), the annual festival is a showcase for contemporary music, theater, dance, and cinema. The visual arts rendezvous with the space, place, and history of the Salpêtrière—the former women’s prison, orphanage, and mental hospital perhaps best known for the activities of pioneer neurologist Charcot and the visit of his admirer Sigmund Freud—became part of the seasonal events in the early ’80s. Since then, the chapel has seen eight different installations. “Every time there’s a real encounter between the artist and the place, it’s been an enormous success,” recalls artistic director Marie Collin, singling out Anne and Patrick Poirier (1983), Christian Boltanski (1986), Bill Viola (1996), and Kawamata. A year in preparation, Kapoor’s intervention seems destined to find its place in the winner’s circle.

For the last three years, the support of France’s public investment fund, the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, has allowed the festival to commission new works from the artists. But moneys or no, to date not an artist has refused the invitation. Indeed the modus operandi has remained remarkably constant under festival director Alain Crombecque, who succeeded Guy upon his death in 1990. Collin relies largely on word-of-mouth in her annual search for what she calls the “rare gem.” Meanwhile the public keeps growing. What makes it all work? “We’re not a museum,” replies Collin. “We do what we want.”

Miriam Rosen