Jardin-Théâtre Bestiarium

Château d'Oiron

“Psychomachy tells the story of a garden called Bestiarium—a garden facing both past and future, shining down on us as a golden age—a garden with lakes reflecting the sky, paths leading to exits, and glimpses of grottoes, forests and thickets. The Bestiarium is like a moving mirror that helps us experience the beauty of the garden itself,” states Rüdiger Schöttle in an excerpt from the catalogue, “Theatergarden/Bestiarium.”

Jardin-Théâtre/Bestiarium” (Theatergarden/bestiarium, 1989–92) conceived by Rüdiger Schöttle and involving the collaboration of 14 artists (Bernard Bazile, Glenn Branca, James Coleman, Fortuyn/O’Brien, Ludger Gerdes, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham, Marin Kasimir, Christian Philipp Müller, Juan Muñoz, Hermann Pitz, Alain Sechas, and Jeff Wall) functions as a paradigm of the collection. And, in its current manifestation, situated permanently at the Château d’Oiron, where Jean-Hubert Martin is in the process of assembling a collection of works commissioned for particular rooms, it illustrates the complexities and risks of “collective” projects.

The majority of the works are assembled on four tables, arranged so that the viewer can walk around them. In addition to the “curiosities” thus displayed, the installation features a dirgelike score by Glenn Branca and a continuous projection of slides onto the tables and works. The latter have been selected by Schöttle and feature reproductions of classical paintings, film stills, and photographs. When the viewer climbs up Kasimir’s waterfall/bleachers and sees these elements from above, the project seems like a storm—or a “moving mirror”—passing over an exquisitely fake landscape.

Taken individually, the most successful works in the piece are those that deal specifically with the notion of subjectivity, the passage from one view to another: Muñoz’s Le Souffleur, (The prompter, 1989) in which his familiar dwarf-figure appears in a box that has been cut through one of the tables: Wall’s theater model, which also functions as a kind of projector in its dispersion of light; Pitz’s Teardrops, 1989, made out of acrylic that both reflects and distorts; Coleman’s Valor Impositus, 1989, in which a “dismembered” skeleton and an empty vitrine seem to refer to the position of the viewer in the museum.

This particular installation of “Theatergarden/Bestiarium” contains a number of advantages over previous incarnations at P.S. 1 Museum in New York, Le Confort Moderne in Poitiers, and Casino de la Exposicion in Seville, all in 1989. In the Château d’Oiron, it is a much more compact presentation, avoiding the haphazard, overly dramatized quality that characterized the piece elsewhere. Nevertheless, a number of works still seem awkwardly placed within the overall context. The most glaring example is Bazile’s L’Antiphonaire (The antiphonary, 1989), which consists of a music stand with carpet samples, ending up as a joke that yearns to be taken seriously. Placed to the side of the four tables, it seems like an afterthought.

On paper, Schöttle’s project seemed hopelessly utopian and raised considerable questions about the relationship between curator and artist. In this case, however, all of the conflicting points of view are combined in a way that opens the experience for the spectator. This is a collection of objects that seems constantly to be renewing itself, moving back and forth over its chosen landscape.

Michael Tarantino