Biennale de Lyon/Biennale de la Jeune Création Européenne

October 6, 2009By Heidi EllisonFarther Afield
Biennale de Lyon, Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze’s “Untitled (Portable Planetarium)” at the Biennale de Lyon.Photo: Blaise Adilon

It would be difficult for any Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon to live up to the wow power of the first one I attended, in 2000. The enormous Halle Tony Garnier, a fine

Biennale de Lyon, Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze’s “Untitled (Portable Planetarium)” at the Biennale de Lyon.Photo: Blaise Adilon

It would be difficult for any Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon to live up to the wow power of the first one I attended, in 2000. The enormous Halle Tony Garnier, a fine example of early 20th-century metallic architecture, was filled with huge, spectacular installations by artists from all over the world, including big names like Jan Fabre, Maurizio Cattelan, Takashi Murakami, Gilbert & George and Annette Messager, but also – and no less impressively – many lesser-known artists from Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

This year’s biennale (through January 3, 2010) is a much more modest affair, held in four locations, with the main event in the Sucrière, a wonderful old sugar factory located in the midst of a huge building site at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône Rivers.

Visitors are greeted by a work by Indian artist Shilpa Gupta: a large iron gate that automatically swings back and forth, each time slamming into the wall (which it is meant to eventually destroy) with a booming clang (pity the poor guards who have to hear it over and over again all day long).

One of the featured artists, with several works on display, is Adel Abdessemed, who seems to be omnipresent these days. In fact, I had recently seen many of these works in other exhibitions and still have a hard time understanding their great appeal. Yes, there is a clever idea behind each of his works – including photos, videos and installations – but once you get it, you’ve got it, and there is no further interest. These are not pieces you want to go back to and look at over and over again (and isn’t that a sine qua non for a great work of art?). But trendy is trendy, and Abdessemed is hot these days.

Among the few works I truly appreciated was American Sarah Sze’s “Untitled (Portable Planetarium)” (2009), a large sculpture consisting of a spiral wooden frame hung with everyday objects that creates a magical world of its own thanks to atmospheric lighting, sound effects and gentle movement.

It was also a delight to see the works of George Brecht, who died last year at the age of 82, scattered throughout the exhibition among the works of all those relative youngsters. Thumbtacked to the walls throughout the show were slips of paper bearing instructions for “events” (“BED EVENT/ Discover or arrange: a white bed/a black item on or near it”), and there were several installation/events he created himself: a row of ordinary chairs, for example, each of them different and each with an associated object: a shirt draped over the back, or a pile of sheet music on the seat. Brecht’s works are as simple as Abdessemed’s (an example of the latter’s: a video of a foot stamping on a Coca-Cola can over and over again), but they are far more evocative. Brecht wasn’t trying to hit you over the head with a message.

I also liked Takahiro Iwasaki’s intricate, delicate constructions with subtly disturbing twists on reality: a hanging 3D model of a pagoda representing the building and its upside-down reflection, for example, or a pair of crumpled socks with wire structures growing out of them sitting incongruously on an occasional table.

Romanian Dan Perjovschi, whose work I noted at this year’s Lille 3000 and was glad to see again (not the same piece; each is site-specific), was represented by his witty, satirical chalk drawings and scribbles covering an entire wall – humor is always the saving grace of political art.

The biennale is a great excuse to visit Lyon, which is a good idea anyway. If you go, do have a meal at Notre Maison (2, rue de Gadagne; tel.: 04 72 41 78 48), a traditional bouchon Lyonnais the tourists haven’t found yet, where the food is appropriately heavy and made primarily with innards but is so delicious and made with such high-quality ingredients that you won’t be able to stop eating it. You’ll also have fun, especially when the chef-owner, with his extra-large personality, comes out of the kitchen to help out and joke with the diners.

Also highly recommended are Lyon’s marvelous markets. If you go to the food market on the Quai Saint-Antoine (open every morning except Monday), do sample Señor Carlos’s delicious and authentic Chilean empañadas (he also has a restaurant at 49 rue de la Charité, 69002 Lyon; tel.: 04 72 41 72 57). It is also de rigueur to have a seat at the market’s café and drink white wine from a pot (a heavy-bottomed bottle/carafe specific to Lyon) while eating oysters. These are pleasures that should not be missed. And, December 8 is the city’s annual Festival of Light, with festivities beginning on December 5.

Closer to Paris, another biennale is taking place in the suburb of Montrouge: the Biennale de la Jeune Création Européenne, an offshoot of the Salon de Montrouge, held every spring, which has been showcasing the work of emerging artists working in France for the past 54 years. The biennale is a similar venture, held every other the autumn, but devoted to artists from all over Europe. Nine countries (Austria, France, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain) are represented this year.

It was interesting to compare this biennale with Lyon’s. Here painting, drawing and photography predominated over the usual proliferation of videos and installations usually seen at shows of emerging artists, and it was a pleasure to see new “faces” rather than the usual suspects that turn up at most contemporary art exhibitions.

Heidi Ellison

Biennale de Lyon:
La Sucrière: Les Docks, 47-49 quai Rambaud, Lyon 69002.
Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon: Cité Internationale, 81 quai Charles de Gaulle, Lyon 69006
Fondation Bullukian: 26 place Bellecour, Lyon 69002

L’Entrepôt Bichat: 5 rue Bichat, Lyon 69002.

Open Tuesday-Sunday, noon-7 p.m. (until 10 p.m. on Friday; opens at 10 a.m. on Dec. 5, 6 & 8). Through January 3, 2010. www.biennaledelyon.com

Biennale de la Jeune Création Européenne:La Fabrique: 51, av. Jean Jaurès, Montrouge. Métro: Porte d’Orléans. Free admission. Through Oct. 25. www.jceforum.eu

More reviews of Paris art exhibitions.

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