Daniel Buren’s installation at the Grand Palais in Paris isn’t going to alter his reputation.
For some people, he is a master of conceptual art. For others, he is the epitome of pretentious banality.
Buren’s latest work, titled “Excentrique(s),” is the fifth sequel of a series, grandly called “Monumenta,” in which artists are invited to use the vast space beneath the glass-and-steel dome of the Grand Palais for a solo show.
The series started in 2007 with a landscape of leaning towers by Anselm Kiefer of Germany. In 2008, U.S. sculptor Richard Serra followed with a row of massive steel sheets. In 2009, an installation made from used clothes by the French artist Christian Boltanski suggested an extermination camp.
Last year, the Indian-born U.K. sculptor Anish Kapoor created a giant walk-in balloon whose reddish interior felt like a mother’s womb.
Buren’s first impulse, he said in an interview with “Le Monde” newspaper, was to work only on the dome and leave the rest of the hall untouched. Because this would have been too time-consuming, he decided to recreate the circular elements of the dome on the ground.
He has transformed the hall into a forest of sunshades -- 350 Plexiglas discs of different diameters in blue, yellow, green and red resting on 3-meter-high pillars. In the center, between the two halves of the forest, mirrors reflect the dome, revealing some panes covered in blue.
On the concrete floor, the four colors form a pattern that, with some imagination, may remind you of an Oriental carpet.
Wandering around, you suddenly have the feeling that somebody is calling you. What you hear, in fact, is a noise emerging from loudspeakers -- a text concocted by the artist, listing numbers and colors in 37 different languages and read by 37 different people.
It’s not the first time the 74-year-old Buren uses sounds. In 1967, at the beginning of his career, he and three colleagues installed a loudspeaker in the room where their paintings were exhibited with a message in three languages: “Buren, Mosset, Parmentier, Toroni advise you to become intelligent.”
What’s missing in the show is Buren’s trademark, his deckchair-like vertical stripes alternating white with another color as seen in his best known -- some would say his most notorious -- work in the courtyard of Paris’s Palais Royal.
“Les Deux Plateaux,” or the Two Levels, a grove of striped column stumps of various heights directly below the windows of Jack Lang, the minister of culture who commissioned them in 1985, provoked a public outcry. When Lang’s successor, Francois Leotard, indicated his willingness to have them knocked down, the artist sued the government and saved his work.
For many Parisians, “Les Colonnes de Buren,” as they are familiarly called, remain an eyesore.
At the Grand Palais, the famous stripes appear only in a watered-down version: The pillars are painted black and white.
The loudspeaker messages aren’t the only side dish Buren is serving. On May 31, Buren-Cirque, his troupe of circus performers, will appear at the Grand Palais.
Other events include a reading in Latin of “De Rerum Natura,” a didactic poem in six books of hexameters by the philosopher Lucretius, and “Libido Sciendi,” a ballet of nude dancers strictly reserved for adults.
“Monumenta 2012” runs through June 21. The exhibition is supported by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA (MC), Steelcase Inc. (SCS), Banque Neuflize OBC SA, Illycaffe SpA, Pascon SA and Renolit AG. Information: http://www.monumenta.com.
(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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