View of “Daniel Buren and Philippe Parreno: Simultanément, travaux in situ et en mouvement” (Simultaneously, Works in Situ and in Motion), 2020–21.

View of “Daniel Buren and Philippe Parreno: Simultanément, travaux in situ et en mouvement” (Simultaneously, Works in Situ and in Motion), 2020–21.

Daniel Buren and Philippe Parreno

In 1985 Pontus Hultén founded the Institut des Hautes Études en Arts Plastiques (Institute for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts), an alternative art school in Paris modeled after the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College. Daniel Buren was among IHEAP’s original faculty, and Philippe Parreno was one of his students. In the years since, Parreno has often cited Buren’s influence, and Buren included Parreno in an exhibition he curated in 2007. Their work has been shown together on several occasions, and as of 2016 they are both represented by Kamel Mennour. But the recent show at the gallery’s newest space marked the artists’ first creative collaboration.

Simultanément, travaux in situ et en mouvement” (Simultaneously, Works in Situ and in Motion) features distinct interventions by each artist that amount to an enchanting interplay of light, color, and reflection. For his part, Buren added twenty-five rectangular pillars to the gallery’s three existing structural ones. He covered all these columns with mirrors and then painted two opposing sides with his signature 8.7-centimeter-wide vertical stripes, in white. Buren also coated the gallery’s large street- and courtyard-facing windows with transparent fuchsia, yellow, and blue film, one color per window in an alternating pattern. Bright hues, mirrors, and stripes have long been Buren’s basic ingredients, used to various effect. Here, the filtration and reflection of natural light recall his 2012 Monumenta project in the nave of Paris’s Grand Palais. But if the translucent canopy and floor mirrors he installed under the barrel-vaulted glass roof of the great nineteenth-century Parisian exhibition hall evoked a place of leisure with colorful parasols and reflecting pools, the interactions of color and light he staged in the gallery suggest a decidedly more hallowed kind of space. The pillars, which Buren arranged in a quincunx pattern in the gallery’s long main room, suggest a cloister, and the large colorful windows radiate a sublime light recalling Chagall’s stained-glass windows in synagogues, churches, and even the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Building on Buren’s reflective and chromatic renovations, Parreno’s contribution is a system of nine motorized window shades. Rolling up and down, rarely in unison, the opaque blinds modulate the overall luminosity inside the gallery and constantly shift the color spectrum from blue to pink to yellow. Erratic, but not in fact aleatory, the shades’ movements are controlled by sensors floating in the nearby Seine. Parreno has shown similar shades before, including in some of his most memorable institutional shows, such as those at London’s Serpentine Gallery (2010) and Gropius Bau in Berlin (2018). This most recent iteration, Nine Blind Sisters, 2020, is notable for being shown in near isolation. Dancing an ebb-and-flow choreography in front of luminous fields of color, these blind sisters steal the show.

Formally, Buren and Parreno’s exhibition begs comparison with Yayoi Kusama’s “infinity mirror rooms,” which also create immersive experiences out of light, mirrors, and architecture. Whereas Kusama casts the viewer at the center of a dazzling and seemingly endless universe of light, color, and reflection—the perfect selfie backdrop—Buren and Parreno’s environment underscores our relative insignificance. At sunset, when the gallery naturally darkens, overhead lights flicker on and continue flickering into the evening. These lights, too, are synced to the Seine. Portending that natural forces greater than ourselves and beyond our control are the ultimate set designers and puppet masters, Parreno and Buren’s collaborative marionette show delivers a supremely humbling experience.