“Before the End”

“Before the End” is an exhibition for two voices: on the one hand, that of critic and curator Stéphanie Moisdon-Tremblay, who has assembled about twenty “first” works by artists inspired by the legacy of Conceptualism, chosen by the artists themselves; and on the other hand, that of the artist Olivier Mosset, who brought together the last paintings made by several seminal Conceptualists before committing themselves to an art of ideas. The two parts of the exhibition are at once separated and united by Eric Troncy’s “display,” which juxtaposes Claude Closky’s wallpaper and Simon Linke’s painting of a magazine cover, Sometimes when I look back I know that if I hadn’t been so angry I wouldn’t have so much regret now, 2002. Linke’s title sentence is especially applicable to Moisdon-Tremblay’s section of the exhibition, a complex journey that brilliantly leads us to reflect on the “great mythical narrative of creativity and style.”

The installation, which allows only two or three works to be seen at a time, creates a distinct sense of time unfolding, as through the chapters of a novel. The artists were invited to write a few lines in order to explain why they chose a particular work as a first, and these texts further accentuate the narrative dimension of the project. Interestingly, almost all chose works that confirm the coherence of their current work, almost to the point of self-caricature. No one dared depart from the principle of the signature. Sylvie Fleury chose a Kelly bag by Hermès (Untitled Untimed Sometime Somewhere Drivin Now, n.d.); Carsten Höller, a collection of small bird carcasses (Bird Collection, 1972–77); John Miller, a mirror smeared with brown paint (Untitled, 1982); Willem de Rooij, a loop of a static shot of a handbag (Untitled, 1992); and so on. Paradoxically, perhaps because it comforts us in our conception of the work, this lack of surprise adds to the pleasure of the exhibition. True, a few have displayed missteps, like Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s @ sign superimposed on three photographs of different places in order to signify the “possibility of art” (Sans titre [Untitled], 1989)—but, in the end, who cares? The pleasure of the exhibition does not depend on the intrinsic quality of the work on view but on the ideas it generates and the stories it contains.

On the Mosset side, the works are presented not sequentially but as an ensemble, based on what they have in common, their abstractness and minimalism devoid of “all aesthetic propriety.” These last “objects,” often paintings, already seem as if abandoned in advance by their authors (Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Barry, and Ian Wilson)—a final, somewhat desolate stage before moving on to new forms. Between the two moments of the exhibition, the idea of an aesthetic project undergoes a transmutation from individual construction to collective development.

Anne Pontégnie

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.