New York

“Une Idée en l'Air”

Various Locations

Too many group shows come unstuck because of a weakness in their theme, or a failure to carry it out. It is therefore always a pleasure to come across a show that is foolproof in that respect. A show put together on a strictly geographical basis may still be a failure, but it will then be a failure on the part of the art, not of the curator. And if it is a success it will enable the public to see a variety of work hung together regardless of the usual stylistic strictures which order most exhibitions.

Une Idée en l’Air” was organized by a group of French artists, headed by the artist Philippe Cazal. Using a diplomatic balancing trick familiar to anyone who has had anything to do with international exhibitions, these organizers were able to persuade several alternative spaces in New York—the Alternative Museum, Artists Space, Creative Time, Fashion Moda, Franklin Furnace, Grommet Studio, the Institute of Art and Urban Resources, and White Columns—to participate, and the French Ministry of Culture to provide the necessary funds. In the end 27 artists were able to take part.

As the name indicates, the work included was diverse in both style and quality. None of it, however, seemed innovative. In fact the tenor was rather subdued, even nostalgic, since a great deal of work was firmly rooted in the thinking current in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In itself this was not necessarily a bad thing, although many of the more established figures in the group seemed content to present rather lightweight pieces.

Quite a few of the participants were involved in the continuing debate about painting—in particular Daniel Dezeuze, François Martin, Marie Gerbaud-Ponchelet, and Jacqueline Dauriac—but the terms of the debate were here still grounded within the framework provided by rhetoric of the support/surface group. The most arresting work was concerned more with photographic information. For example, Didier Bay’s meditations on different advertising codes, that placed familiar advertising images with their biased sexual innuendos, beside personal ads from local weeklies. And Sophie Calle’s obsessive and idiosyncratic recording of the behavior of strangers looked as though it might develop into something if she can transcend the whimsical narratives which currently hobble the work.

As might be expected, Daniel Buren outshone the others, installing four banners on the outer corners of the Clocktower, a gesture of elegant wit that gave a sardonic twist to the show as a whole.

Thomas Lawson