Perhaps the work that best summed up the aims of “Traffic,” an exhibition dedicated to the art of the ’90s, was the fireplace Xavier Veilhan installed directly across from the entrance to the main room of the museum. Primarily, this work represented an attempt to blur the line between the “sacred” space of the museum and the “traffic” of the everyday. But the work also embodied what curator Nicolas Bourriaud calls “relational esthetics”: the “art” was as much the viewers sitting around the fire that burned inside this black metal structure as the object itself.

Of the pieces presented here, some had already been shown elsewhere, others were created specifically for this site. In keeping with Bourriaud’s emphasis on art that investigates interpersonal exchange, many of the 30 artists who exhibited their work also participated in outside activities—including lectures and conferences—that were held in conjunction with the exhibition. This focus was borne out by many of the works themselves. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, for example, presented a series of “Séances Autobiographiques” (Autobiographical sessions, 1996) that invited visitors to talk about and draw plans of their homes. Rirkrit Tiravanija offered “services” to the general public, including cardboard armchairs and bottles of mineral water. Creating one of the most impressive installations in the exhibition, Angela Bulloch collected an assortment of regulations—including the rules to which call girls in English pubs are required to adhere—in what could be seen only as a kind of manifesto.

Though certain works had a spectacular dimension, the aim seemed to be to establish a relationship with reality rather than to exclude the outside world altogether. This was evident in Vanessa Beecroft’s partially dressed, bewigged performers; in Gillian Wearing’s two videos; and in Henry Bond’s quasi-narrative videos. Lothar Hempel sought out four local organizations for his installation: from the most banal, a dance school, to the most unconventional, an association of people who like to criticize others. He then exhibited materials furnished by these groups on the exterior of a construction that evoked a set for a TV show, complete with fake buildings and spotlights. The set seemed to indicate the possibility of overcoming the separation between the museum and the city, between art and life.

In reflecting on these relationships, not all of the participants, unfortunately, contributed their best work, while certain schemes that were devised by the artists during the course of the show seemed questionable at best. There was much interesting work to be seen, however. Certainly the most beautiful image was a hot-air balloon with a lighted chandelier attached to it, which had been created by Philippe Parreno and Maurizio Cattelan. This bizarre object, which floated through the air to the great delight of onlookers, presented a simple, unpretentious solution to the problem of the relationship between the work and its context.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.