Paris’s Palais de Tokyo recently traveled to five sprawling mega-cities – Dhaka, Lagos, Manila, Mexico City and Tehran – in search of artists who push the boundaries of contemporary art with outrageous and/or outsized works. The result is “City Prince/sses,” a mega-exhibition of wild and wonderful installations that fill its vast galleries.
The curators deny any quest for exoticism and say there is no overarching theme. Rather, the show “affirms multiple singularities and embraces the expressions of strong temperaments, bringing them together to capture a vibration, a tremor, a liveliness emblematic of the tempestuous kingdom of creation.” Now that’s ambitious.
I’m not sure how many vibrations and tremors were captured, but these works, by some 50 artists, many of them created for this show, certainly fill the bill when it comes to being outsized, and are often indeed outrageous. Many of them have social or political concerns, dealing with such themes as migration, the environment and local problems.
Reetu Sattar, in his “Lost Tune,” for example, comments on political partition and sectarian violence in Bangladesh by gathering eight groups of harmonium players and filming them while each group plays a single note, creating a shrill, meditative “lamentation.”
A collective called Biquini Wax EPS comments on human impact on nature and the environment with “Sa la na, a yuum, iasis, laissez faire, laissez passer” (2019), an installation that pays homage to the captive killer whale Keiko, who starred in the 1993 film Free Willy. Although he had had a rough life in aquariums, he was no longer able to survive in the wild and died not long after being released off the coast of Iceland.
Another installation is the result of an unusual collaboration between father and son, Reza Shafahi, a former wrestler who lost all his savings to gambling, and his artist son Mamali. Encouraged by his son, Reza contributed his colorful, naive TV-inspired drawings (when he started drawing, he stopped gambling) to the installation as a complement to Mamali’s wacky and weird sculptures and videos.
Some of the installations are not only outsized but also playful and sometimes a bit scary. One example is the room-sized installation with an impossibly long name (see photo above) by Maria Jeona Zoleta, an artist from Manila, which looks like a kindergarten class’s large-scale art projects gone mad, with its strident, clashing colors and naive style. This joyous outburst of stuff, complete with colored balloons, is given a disturbing edge by the inclusion of sex toys and porn along with children’s games and a soundtrack featuring an unseen wailing baby.
One of my favorite installations, “Mama! Mama! I Feel Quaint,” is by Ha.Mü, a Manila fashion brand founded by Abraham Guardian and Mamuro Oki. A group of mannequins is dressed in fantastic masks and costumes, each one meant to represent an emotion, made from colorful fabrics and many other bits and pieces, ranging from beads and plastic tubing to rubber gloves, Slinkies and rubber duckies.
The exhibition’s title, by the way, refers to songs by Michel Berger and French hip-hop group 113, respectively “Le Prince des Villes” and “Les Princes de la Ville.”
Set aside a good amount of time to wander through the immense spaces of the Palais de Tokyo and let yourself be surprised by the fantasies of the creative princes and princesses from these five teeming metropolises.