Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris

Unlike most thematic exhibitions, which in their attachment to illustrating an idea become mired in a fairly colorless systematic display, “Voilà: Le Monde dans la tête” (Voilà: The world in mind) stood out for its freshness and originality. As articulated by Suzanne Pagé in the supplement to Les Inrockuptibles that served as a catalogue, the goal of the show (cocurated by Pagé and Béatrice Parent) was to look at the century now ending through works that evidence memory and the recording of time, using techniques that involve “encyclopedic compulsions, fragile biographical traces, learned systems of acquisition, whether loose or methodical.” We are not far from Georges Perec, and the exhibition thus managed to touch on the encyclopedic more through the artistic processes used than through the show’s installation. It is here, perhaps, that the realization of this exhibition seems a bit hasty: Its trajectory in no way responds to the systematic treatment, classification, or inventory of works which, to my mind, could have given rise to an installation that fully engaged with the theme, thereby underscoring its character, whether utopian or derisive.

As for the selection of works, it included many of the artists for whom the process of classification, or the exhaustion of of possibilities, sometimes to the point of absurdity, has been characteristic for many years: This is the case with Bernd and Hilla Becher, On Kawara, Douglas Huebler. and Claude Closky. Other works tackled themes of memory, or references to the past or to history, while avoiding such a purely compulsive approach—though these were not always successful. Matthew Barney’s installation based on elements from Cremaster 2, 1998–99, presented what were essentially relics from the making of his film, and so had only anecdotal interest. The powerfully visual and acoustic installation by Claude Lévêque (Claude, 2000), a memorial to adolescents killed by stray bullets on the streets of Chicago, illustrated the theme of the exhibition only superficially, despite its spectacular impact.

Finally, “Voilà” afforded a chance to discover some new work, shown for the first time or created for the exhibition by artists in whose work the archival process appears to be less central. This is true for the video The Secret Files, 2000, in which Gilbert & George, interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist, one of Pagt and Parent’s collaborators on the exhibition, reveal and comment on the contents of their work archives with a detachment and self-mockery that make this document hilarious at times. This was also the case for Sichtbare Welt (Visible world), 1986–2000, by Fischli & Weiss, a presentation of the artists’ collection of images of landscapes from all over the world, and of Time Capsule 214, 1978, by Andy Warhol, for whom the systematic recording of the banal and quotidian was common practice, as illustrated by the boxes he filled with documents and souvenirs and which went unseen until after his death. In Bertrand Lavier présente la peinture des Martins, 1900-2000 (Bertrand Lavier presents painting by Martins, 1900–2000), 1984/2000, the artist (who, along with Christian Boltanski, came up with the idea for “Voilà”) filled an entire room with works by Agnes Martin, Etienne Martin, Michael Craig-Martin, and a plethora of unknown Martins, hanging them side by side without hierarchical distinction. (The date reflects the span of time covered by the works included.) Here, the density of the installation proceeded from a methodical and systematic swey that one would have liked to see in evidence throughout the whole exhibition. In the end, the only ambiguous thing about the show is its title. Et voilà—and that’s that.

Valérie Breuvart

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.