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On the playground: Dynamo at Grand Palais, Paris (a satire)

(Paris.) Leaving the Dynamo show at Grand Palais, I felt exhausted and overwhelmed with impressions. Sitting down on a bench, I wondered how it would be possible to describe the experience - and preferably without using the term "indescribable".

Here on the outside, Fujiko Nakaya turns the fountain into a giant witch's cauldron, tactfully covering the classic stone nudes in steam clouds. One more hypnotizing impression, made to absorb the spectator. Suddenly, a suppressed noise made me start, and looking up I found a bundle of papers somebody had left on my bench. It was the top-secret transcript of a Grand Palais board meeting.


A meeting room at Grand Palais, sometime in early 2012. Three museum managers and one intern.

1st manager (taking notes): "Fine... Art Paris, Antique Books Fair, Hermès Horse Jumping... isolated events... hoping annual subscribers won't be too fed up with the lack of exhibitions in summer..." (looking up): "Now what about the side wing. Any ideas?"

2nd manager: "Following on Hopper? That's a tough one."

1st manager: "It'll be closed for some weeks anyway, after the Hopper prolongation in February. We could take a break and start something new in mid-April. Though you're right: We need something huge, to keep up the wave."

3rd manager: "Huge and different than Hopper..."

2nd manager: "No paintings."

3rd manager: "And still huge? Painting is the people's dope."

(All taking notes, looking out of the window, then at the intern, very young, brunette, who enters with a bottle of a fine Bordeaux wine and silently starts filling the glasses)

1st manager: "Ah yes, merci mademoiselle."

2nd manager: "What about Morellet? We've promised him a show long ago... He might not be the biggest name, internationally speaking, but easy and sometimes interactive. Cheap transport costs, too!"

1st manager (rather unconvinced): "Interesting... But Centre Pompidou just did it. Yet, we might still... we have a lot more space to fill, after all..."

(The intern, who already opened her mouth twice, finally finds the courage to intervene): "Excusez-moi, messieurs?"

1st manager (turns to her with a surprised smile): "Yes, mademoiselle?"

The intern: "I... For next year... When you say Morellet, he's so great! But have you ever done an Op Art show, here at Grand Palais? I love op art!"

1st manager: "Hum, well, thank you, Mademoiselle." (Looking questioningly at his colleagues, one of whom keeps his eyes on the table, visibly not amused by the inappropriate approach):

"I don't think this has ever been done at Grand Palais, no."

(He nods, then turns away from her.): "You will excuse us now."

(Bemused looks, as the intern leaves the room)

3rd manager: "She's the daughter of Monsieur ---?"

1st manager: "No, no that's the other one, the Blonde in marketing. That one's from the --- family. Lived some years abroad, quite an outgoing personality."

2nd manager: "I see." (Nodding knowingly, expressing that certain French sense of social status)

"Well, back to Morellet then, ... what if we took about ten pieces and pair him with another artist?"

1st manager: "Someone similar?"

3rd manager: "Or two."

2nd manager: "What about a group show?"

1st manager: "A huge group show... Maybe it's not such a bad idea after all: Op Art. It got out of focus a bit, but people still love it."

3rd manager: "Time for a comeback, you mean?"

2nd manager: "Absolutely! Of course not just classical Op Art, let's enlarge the concept a bit. We're gonna show everything that moves; or twinkles! There'll be electricity in the air, we'll put Maison Rouge's 'Neon' to shame!"

1st manager: "I'm starting to like it... That needs to be well planned though, with a cross marketing campaign... and our show the final climax. Palais de Tokyo could show someone like ... like ... Julio Le Parc! January through May, for example. And we'll ask the Pompidou to search their stock for Sotos, do a little sideshow to ours."

3rd manager: "The unofficial Parisian Op Art Weeks?"

2nd manager: "Exactly! A Visual Spring! And Grand Palais stages the biggest exhibition of Op Art ever. In France.

1st manager: "In Europe!"

2nd manager: "In the world!"

1st manager: "Naturally."

2nd manager, nodding quickly: "People will be like: 'Ah!' 'Oh!' 'Woah!' 'Awesome!' 'Seen this?' 'And that?'" (breaks into an agitated charade)

3rd manager: "Free your mind and vision, enjoy pure expression. That's art for everyone, and nothing to understand."

2nd manager: "This is Art 2.0, the ultimate merging of art and fun. L'art pour l'art without annoying theories. Even people who don't like contemporary art will visit and tell their friends how great it was."

1st manager: "A door opener, and people having a good time!"

2nd manager: "We'll take only the biggest names."

1st manager: "Carlos Cruz-Diez."

2nd manager: "Jeppe Hein, she did this moving mirror labyrinth once."

1st manager: "John Armleder's 'Volte 3', a giant Neon wall, better than Times Square, or Bangkok."

2nd manager: "Frank Stella, Bridget Riley",...

1st manager: "We'll have a Le Parc too, or two. Or three."

3rd manager: "Make it five."

2nd manager: "Same for Soto - Jesus Rafael Soto, God, I love those Spanish names. 'Jesus' - at least his father did not lack self-esteem."

(polite, but reserved laughter. The intern brings a fresh bottle, then retreats into a corner, regularly - and in ever-shorter intervals - refilling the glasses)

3rd manager: "Anish Kapoor?"

2nd manager: "Oh yeaaah! I love Kapoor! Not an exclusive project like what he did for our Monumenta, but his red round plastic mirrors, those that look like blood pools, and you see yourself upside down in another universe."

1st manager: "Everybody knows them."

2nd manager: "Not the kind of people who will come to this show! If we do it right, we'll have three floors filled with families. Common people will come with their kids, not only on holidays, but before their offspring even visits a school! I see three-years-olds playing between and with the works, art critics of 1,90m will be seen at the exit checking their soles to make sure, they did not accidentally step on someone."

1st manager: "Come on, keep going, who else?"

2nd manager: "That Scandinavian chick with her color baths, what's she called again?"

3rd manager: "Ann Veronica Janssens? She's Belgian, actually."

2nd manager: "Exactly. We'll take two or three of those, and there'll be people queuing not just outside, but inside the show, too!"

1st manager: "Take it easy here, don't start dreaming."

2nd manager: "By the might of Pinault, it will be like this! Three hours waiting outside and one hour inside for some of the works."

1st manager: "Janssens goes well with Cruz-Diez' 'Chromosaturations', a dive into light, or colors. Here the inspiration, there the perfection."

2nd manager: "And James Turrell."

1st manager: "The same, but different."


2nd manager: "Turrell once did a sort of darkroom with three feeble light sources. Being in there feels like minus fifteen diopters, or so they say."

1st manager takes off his glasses and starts cleaning them with his sleeve. "Nice work, indeed."

(2nd manager, quickly, to break the impending silence):

"Dan Flavin!"

1st manager: I don't like Flavin.

2nd manager: Ok, but Flavin, you know... Flavin! He's a legend!

1st manager: "I see.... if needs must... But only one work! And..."

2nd manager: "Great!"

1st manager: "...and we'll put it next to the toilets."

3rd manager: "Neon - toilets. Good for me."

2nd manager: "Perhaps a second one?"

1st manager: "We'll talk about it later. Now, everybody calm down for a second. Will this really work?"

2nd manager (shrugs): People love 3D movies, that's a fact. It's like being high as a kite on coke, chasing your tuned scooter down the Sacre Coeur stairs with the last thing you remember an after-opening dinner at Galerie --- (stops short and clears his throat, then continues in a calmer voice):

"Anyway, 3-D cinema, everybody's totally in it. No boring story, just effects. No thinking, just the immediacy of a rollercoaster."

3rd manager (thoughtfully): "You now, in George Romero's 'Land of the Dead' the zombies love fireworks, just can't stop looking at them. Till they are beheaded."

1st manager: "Why do you mention this?"

3rd manager (in an embarrassed voice): "Never mind... No, forget it, please. I'm sorry."

(Annoyed frowns and eyes rolling.)

1st manager: "We will borrow a hundred artworks, at least. We are the Grand Palais."

2nd manager: "The Grandest Palais!"

(clinking glasses)

3rd manager: "We can have some stroboscope shows, with warnings for epileptics."

(1st manager, thoughtfully): "Stroboscopes always make me think of '64 and Ken Kasey. Only read about it, though."

3rd manager: The thrill can be increased with electrocution works. Stephen Antonakos' 'Hanging Neon needs to be guarded', otherwise it would work as an electric flytrap for visitors."

2nd manager (not listening): "We will turn time back many years - Vasarely, Molnar, Tinguely, Bury... 'A Century of Movement', a great subtitle!"

1st manager: "That will be one expensive show! All the insurances, electricity expenses, and those works need maintenance - there's always something that won't work."

2nd manager: "Who cares if one or two pieces are out of order each day! And the pleb-- eh, those ordinary visitors will all buy the catalogue, or the album. All of them. We'll make the album thinner than usual, depicting five per cent of the works is largely sufficient, then sell it for ten Euros. It will work, trust me!"

3rd manager: "Ban photographs to boost catalogue sales?"

1st manager: "No.... I don't think that's necessary here. There's too much light and motion involved, nobody will be happy with his private shots. Besides, you know I don't like these tactics. We are not the MAMVP, or something. Let them take their pictures, they'll go shopping anyway."

(The intern brings another bottle.)

1st manager: "Please, Mademoiselle, leave it right here."

(She retreats to her corner again, as the managers empty their glasses, all very enthusiastic by now)

2nd manager: "But we'll keep Morellet, you know I've promised to his dealer...?!"

1st manager: "Don't worry, we'll have ten Morellets at least, there's room for everything. And I want entertainment, light designers or what do they call it today?"

2nd manager: "Yes! I love the lightshows you see at sports events, you know, Soccer World Cup, Olympic Games - somebody gets a trophy and 'BOOM!' - something explodes and glittering confetti flies all about."

1st manager: "You think, we could order one or two new works for the occasion? Ask Xavier Veilhan for a giant mobile or something?"

2nd manager: "Sure. Felice Varini could paint red rings on the terrace columns, a 3D painting visible from the outside..."

3rd manager: "He's amazing, I agree."

1st manager (refilling his glass): "Messieurs, I start... I start feeling the exhibition, before my mental eye, you know... I feel how the visitor will feel. Totally." (giggles and empties the glass in one gulp)


At this point I opened my eyes and felt the cold rain mixing with saliva drooling from my open mouth. I was still sitting on that bank in front of the Grand Palais, but looking at my hands, they were empty. There was no transcript, there never was. It was all a dream. Meetings like this don't exist; there are only curators, curators in chief, assistant curators, exhibition designers, artistic directors and a whole lot of other types of museum staff. They regularly present most elaborated exhibition concepts in animated PowerPoint presentations, and engage in complex scientific considerations. Furthermore, I am fully aware of the art historical importance and technical skills of op art artists who create new form of visual beauty. Still, there is a connection to ephemeral spectacle; maybe it's not exactly art for dummies, but it's an easy art.

And I gave up searching for ways to describe this show.

Dynamo, Grand Palais, 10 April 2013-22 July 2013



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