Parisians fail to grasp that their city is no longer the arts capital of the world and that the new stars of the market are American, British or German.
The latest effort to redress that sorry state of affairs is an exhibition, a joint venture of the French government and the city of Paris at the Palais de Tokyo, whose east wing is occupied by the municipality’s Musee d’Art Moderne and the west wing by the state’s Site de Creation Contemporaine.
Some 40 artists or artistic teams, none older than 40, have been selected among 800 candidates. Three-quarters are French; the others are foreigners working in Paris.
The title, “Dynasty,” is misleading: This isn’t a populist show seeking to endear itself to a soap-opera- addicted, middlebrow public. Many of the items are esoteric.
Not that accessible works are missing. At the entrance, you are greeted by Theo Mercier’s 3-meter-high giant sculpted from spaghetti. In the next room, you find Guillaume Bresson’s paintings of a robbery in an underground car park: They are based on staged photos, yet the poses recall old masters.
The many canvases disprove the conventional wisdom that the days of painting are numbered. Some are influenced by graffiti, some by comics, others by Anselm Kiefer.
A stuffed hyena demonstrates that Damien Hirst’s golden touch hasn’t gone unnoticed on the other side of the Channel.
A huge installation by the Taiwan-born Yuhsin U. Chang, titled “Dust at the Palais de Tokyo,” looks like a frozen waterfall gushing out of the wall. It’s one of the many works arriving with a philosophical -- or, as Benoit Maire puts it, “post-conceptual” -- underpinning.
Maire’s bronze sculpture of a nose is accompanied by texts expounding his “aesthetics of difference.”
To fully grasp the meaning of “The Coming Race,” a series of photographs by Alain Della Negra and Kaori Kinoshita, you have to attend their lectures. The people in the pictures represent “a new mankind, polymorphous, telepathic and capable of perceiving invisible worlds,” according to the press material.
The most original of the conceptual works, “Truce: Strategies for Post-Apocalyptic Computation” by Robin Meier and Ali Momeni, was inspired by the discovery that male mosquitoes adapt the pitch of their humming to that of their mates during copulation: Three live insects hum along with a traditional Indian song.
The organizers make no attempt to present the various styles and techniques as the germ of a new School of Paris. Nor do they give the bewildered visitor much help: Each artist appears in both wings, not the best way to facilitate the understanding of his or her work. The catalog is a mess.
So you’ll have to follow your own instinct. What you’ll discover is a young scene, sometimes pretentious, often bizarre, yet vibrant -- proof that there is still fire under the ashes of a glorious past.
(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Jorg von Uthmann in Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org.