Palais de Tokyo expands: More room for international contemporary art


Eleven Asian artists have been included in the inaugural edition of La Triennale, which was launched at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris on 20 April 2012. The museum itself was recently reopened after a major extension project that has made it the largest contemporary art centre in Europe.

Where art and ethnography converge

Under the artistic direction of Okwui Enwezor, who is backed by a curatorial team that includes Abdellah KarroumÉmilie RenardMélanie Bouteloup and Claire StaeblerLa Triennale offers a panorama of contemporary art that combines the French art scene with international artists. It replaces La Force de l’Art 01 and 02, editions of a similar event held in 2006 and 2009 respectively.

Inspiration for “Intense Proximity”, the theme of the 2012 edition of La Triennale, comes from the works of twentieth century French ethnography figures such as Claude Levi-Strauss. As Enwezor explains,

La Triennale (“Intense Proximity”) sets off on a journey to explore the nodes where art and ethnography converge…. Fundamentally, the goal of the project is to shift from the idea of national space, as a constituted physical location, to a frontier space that constantly assumes new morphologies and new models of categorisation (local, national, trans-national, geo-political, denational, pure, contaminated…).

In 2012, 1200 works of art are on show at the Palais de Tokyo and seven other Paris spaces including Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche, le Centre d’art contemporain d’Ivry – le Crédac, Galliera – musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, le Grand Palaisles Instants Chavirés, les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers and Musée du Louvre.

Huma Bhabha My Skull is Too Small, 2009 Clay, wood, wire, styrofoam, aluminum, cast-iron, acrylic paint, charcoal 236.2 x 71.1 x 233.7 cm Courtesy the artist and Salon 94, New York

Huma Bhabha, 'My Skull is Too Small', 2009, clay, wood, wire, styrofoam, aluminium, cast-iron, acrylic paint, charcoal 236.2 x 71.1 x 233.7 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Salon 94, New York.

Asian contemporary art at Palais de Tokyo

Of the 120 artists participating in this 2012 edition of La Triennale, eleven are from the Asian region: Ekta Mittal & Yashaswini Raghunandan, Huma Bhabha, Jewyo Rhii, Minouk Lim, NaoKo TakaHashi, Seulgi Lee, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Ariella Azoulay, Desire Machine Collective, Ham Steinbach and Hiwa K.

Ekta Mittal & Yashaswini Raghunandan From the film presence,project Behind the Tin Sheets, 2009–2012 Courtesy the artists

Ekta Mittal & Yashaswini Raghunandan, 2009-2012, still from 'Presence', the second film in the project "Behind the Tin Sheets". Image courtesy the artists.

Ekta Mittal & Yashaswini Raghunandan (b. 1982 and 1984, India) This artist duo’s film, Presence, is the second in a project called “Behind the Tin Sheets” and shows the changes and metamorphosis of Bangalore, a city both artists call home. The film focuses on migrant workers and the changes that they make to their environment.

Huma Bhabha (b. 1962, Pakistan) Bhabha’s practice includes sculpture, painting, printmaking, and drawing; her work “engages the potential of contemporary figuration without recourse to retrograde traditionalism”.

Jewyo Rhii, 'Wall to Talk to (Dust Wind)', 2011, handmade typewriter. Image courtesy the artist.

Jewyo Rhii (b. 1971, South Korea) Rhii’s Wall to Talk to uses typewriters to sculpt words in order to pronounce them. Each typewriter tells a story inscribed directly onto the wall in Korean characters.

Minouk Lim (b. 1968, South Korea) Lim deals with political criticism, principally of Korean society. The artist investigates the constructions of strategic discourse and of political and security propaganda proposed by the powers of the two Koreas.

NaoKo TakaHashi Oh Boy, Where are the Seven Colours? Part One: Entry, 2009–2010 Mixed media installation with sound Installation view: Riso, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea della Sicilia, Palermo, Italy Courtesy the artist and L'appartement 22, Raba

NaoKo TakaHashi, 'Oh Boy, Where are the Seven Colours? Part One: Entry', 2009–2010, mixed media installation with sound installation view: Riso, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea della Sicilia, Palermo, Italy. Image courtesy the artist and L'appartement 22.

NaoKo TakaHashi (b. 1973, Japan) TakaHashi questions social relations, notions of identity and cultural ownership in times of globalisation. Oh Boy! Where are the seven colors? is an installation reproducing the sensation of wandering in a space of unknown layout based on her experience in Morocco. The artist travelled to Marrakech in 2009 and 2010 to do research for her project. Her work for La Triennale necessitated a third trip during which she completed the project.

Seulgi Lee (b. 1972, South Korea) Baton (2009) comprises a group of seventeen long colourful sticks. Lee describes colour as its own language. “When placed together, [the batons’] various groupings evoke banners, parades, and ritualistic display, yet never completely disavow their rigidity, strength, and vaguely martial connotation.”

Trinh T. Minh-ha (b. 1952, Vietnam) Trinh T. Minh-ha is a Vietnamese-American filmmaker, anthropologist, feminist and post-colonial theorist. Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) features interviews with five Vietnamese women set against a backdrop of archival footage and newsreels. The women appear to be from the time period depicted, however they are in fact amateur actresses living in the United States.

Trinh T. Minh-ha Surname Viet given name Nam, 1989 16 mm color film, 108 min Directed, written and edited by Trinh T. Minh-ha Production design by Jean-Paul Bourdier Cinematography: K. Beeler

Trinh T. Minh-ha, 'Surname Viet given name Nam', 1989, 16 mm color film, 108 min, directed, written and edited by Trinh T. Minh-ha, production design by Jean-Paul Bourdier Cinematography.

Ariella Azoulay (b. 1962, Israel) As described on the La Triennale website, “Azoulay presents a series of 24 collages for ‘Intense Proximity’ composed of drawings and texts, tools for investigting the beginings of the Isreal-Palestinian conflict, between 1947 and 1950, spanning the four-year transformation of Palestine into Israel.”

Desire Machine Collective (b. 1975 and 1978, India) Snal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya present Residue, a 16 mm film that documents the natural rehabilitation of an abandoned coal plant.

Desire Machine Collective, 'Residue', 2011 HD video, 39 minutes. Image courtesy the artists.

Desire Machine Collective, 'Residue', 2011 HD video, 39 minutes. Image courtesy the artists.

Haim Steinbach (b. 1944, Israel) Since the 1980s, Israeli-born, New York-residing artist Haim Steinbach has used shelves as a recurring motif in his installation work. His two pieces for La Triennale are no different.

Hiwa K (b. 1975, Iraq) On show at La Triennale is documentation of Hiwa K’s 2011 performance This Lemon Tastes of Apple. The performance took place “during the final days of a civil unrest not covered by the international press”. In another work, May 1st (2009), “Hiwa K tries to convince several long-haired pacifists to shave their heads with him to free the shaven-head from its Neo-Nazi associations”.

Hiwa K, 'This Lemon Tastes of Apple', 2011, video documentation of performance, colour, audio, 12 minutes : 9 seconds. Image courtesy the artist.

Hiwa K, 'This Lemon Tastes of Apple', 2011, video documentation of performance, colour, audio, 12 minutes : 9 seconds. Image courtesy the artist.

Unconventional, idiosyncratic space

La Triennale is taking place in the recently reopened Palais de Tokyo, which was closed for ten months for renovations. The architects responsible for the museum’s facelift, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, were determined to retain the drama of the 1937 building, originally built for the World’s Fair and which has served as a cinema school, an archive and even a squat. They have created a deconstructed four-level space featuring concrete, exposed beams and ductwork and peeling plaster, as well as more than doubling the 7,000 square metres that the building clocked in at just one year ago.

Minouk Lim, 'The Weight of Hands', 2010, performance still. Image courtesy the artist and PKM gallery, Bartleby Bickle and Meursault, Seoul.

International ambitions

The recent expansion of the Palais belies an attempt by the museum to establish itself on the international stage. Plans are in place to bring curators and artists from all over the world to the Palais and collaborations with international art spaces are being organised. Semi-permanent art pieces and installations will be displayed in unconventional “anti-museum” spots such as the spaces around staircases and windows.

Jean de Loisy, the president of the Palais de Tokyo, intends to increase the number of exhibitions tenfold to between thirty and forty a year. The exhibitions will be multi-generational, established and emerging artists will be shown together, and regionally inclusive, as French artists living and working in regional centres and schools will be invited to the French capital. To date, limited information is available on who will actually show at the Palais in the year ahead; de Loisy is not announcing the exhibition schedule until September 2012. In February 2012, Le Monde reported that, among other local and European artists, Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto has been given space at the museum.

Seulgi Lee Stick, 2009 Wood, silk, 5 cm dia. x 510 cm each Courtesy the artist Production : La Ferme du Buisson -

Seulgi Lee, 'Stick', 2009, wood, silk, 5 cm dia. x 510 cm each. Image courtesy the artist.

Hybrid economic model

One unique characteristic of the centre is its hybrid economic model: the Palais is “half-public, half-private”. Says de Loisy in an interview with Le Monde published on 24 February 2012,

We are looking for two million Euros in patronage…. In addition, [the] 600 and 800 square metre spaces are privatised and should bring up to one million Euros per year. The entrance fee has been slightly increased and the objective is to attract 500,000 visitors per year.

The Ministry of Culture has financed the renovation, which cost twenty million Euros, and private patrons contribute to the operational costs. Existing patrons such as the Pierre Bergé & Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and Banque Neuflize OBC have been joined by Orange, Japan Tobacco International, GDF and Champagnes Roederer, among others.


Related Topics: museums, triennales, art in Paris, globalisation of art

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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