Paris

Isabelle Andriessen, Tidal Spill (detail), 2018, ceramic, metal containers, iron(II) sulphate, potassium dichromate, potassium permanganate, silicone rubber, aluminum, refrigerant compressor, tubes, aroma, compressed air, 56 × 110 × 5". From “Le centre ne peut tenir.” Photo: Pierre Antoine.

Isabelle Andriessen, Tidal Spill (detail), 2018, ceramic, metal containers, iron(II) sulphate, potassium dichromate, potassium permanganate, silicone rubber, aluminum, refrigerant compressor, tubes, aroma, compressed air, 56 × 110 × 5". From “Le centre ne peut tenir.” Photo: Pierre Antoine.

"Le centre ne peut tenir”

Lafayette Anticipations

"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” This line, from William Butler Yeats’s 1919 poem “The Second Coming,” is often resurrected in today’s political landscape, expressing the decline of centrism and the unraveling of established ideologies. Rather than lament the precarity of the center, however, “Le centre ne peut tenir” (The Center Cannot Hold)—curated by François Quintin with Charles Aubin, Anna Colin, and Hicham Khalidi—asked visitors to reconsider the value of centrality. The show displayed work by eleven artists that revealed how binaries fail to capture social and physical realities, while also hosting an event series on a stage designed by architect Andrés Jacque to foster novel dynamics between spectators and performers. The pieces—all special commissions, with a majority created in the ateliers of the Galeries Lafayette Corporate Foundation—insisted that the world is too nuanced to be organized into dualities such as left and right or into their meeting point, the center.

Isabelle Andriessen’s Tidal Spill (all works cited, 2018), was a group of sculptures “contaminated” by electric shock or a chemical drip that simultaneously blur the distinction between organic and inorganic. One form, a pale-green log, is covered in speckled moss and leaks goopy, snot-like strands; bloodred rust brutally invades another, a knotted cloud shape with an opalescent sheen. Paul Maheke’s multimedia installation Levant—made with dancer and choreographer Ligia Lewis and techno producer Nkisi—confronted the question of visibility, proposing that being only half seen offers personal and political power. The work features a video of Lewis pulsing to Nkisi’s music, flashing in and out of focus as if under the strobe lights of a hazy nightclub. The figure demands the viewer’s attention but remains indefinable, and all the more compelling for that. Lucy Beech expanded further upon the elasticity of the human body in Reproductive Exile, 2018, her thirty-minute film on assisted motherhood in Europe. A “documentary fiction” based on the Czech Republic’s surrogacy industry, enabled by its relatively lax reproductive laws, this haunting, sci-fi-infused tale highlights the battery of international products, substances, and even people used to induce conception, thus calling into question standard definitions of motherhood and national identity.

Not all featured works were as effective; for example, Julien Creuzet’s In my hands ( . . . ), a hanging sculpture of abstracted hands, wrapped hair dryers, and conch shells, was unconvincing as a purported commentary on exchanges between France and its former colonies. Of greater concern than the exhibition’s inconsistent quality, though, was the unintentional irony of its message. Several works—Creuzet’s piece, as well as the duo Cooking Sections’ installation on the Algerian wine industry (Losing Cultures), and Danielle Dean’s video examining the history of the department store (Bazar)—made direct reference to French colonialism. The recurrence of this theme suggested that among the binaries the curators wished to dissolve was that of periphery and center, or colony and metropole. And yet the exhibition’s host institution, which opened as a hybrid exhibition space and workshop this past March, is doing all it can to ensure Paris’s ongoing cultural centrality as a production hub for new art. The Louvre may have been willing to loan its name, cachet, and collections to Abu Dhabi; Lafayette Anticipations insists that Paris is an active, growing art destination and not just a cultural legacy name brand to be sold off or exported at will. Despite its unevenness, “Le centre ne peut tenir” proved that Lafayette Anticipations—and, by extension, that onetime imperial capital, Paris—remains capable of generating exciting contemporary work. Perhaps centers can hold, after all.