October 13, 2009By Heidi EllisonFarther Afield

Tadashi Kawamata’s wooden bridge and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s film installation, works presented in Bordeaux during the Evento festival.

Every French city seems to be promoting itself these days by holding a big contemporary art festival. Lille had its Lille 3000 in the spring and summer, Lyon has its biennale, and even


Tadashi Kawamata’s wooden bridge and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s film installation, works presented in Bordeaux during the Evento festival.

Every French city seems to be promoting itself these days by holding a big contemporary art festival. Lille had its Lille 3000 in the spring and summer, Lyon has its biennale, and even little Montrouge on the edge of Paris has a long-standing annual contemporary art exhibition and a brand-new biennale. And now Bordeaux has its own biennale, too, the Evento festival of the arts.

It’s actually a great idea. Aside from providing artists with new forums to show their work, these festivals liven up provincial cities, boosting their civic pride and bringing in new visitors to rediscover their assets. And Evento demonstrates that Bordeaux, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, has many worth seeing. What I remember as a lovely but somehow drab city now looks all spiffed up, with its gracious 18th-century blond-stone houses seeming to glow in the autumn light. The Garonne waterfront, previously a sleazy no-go area, has been beautifully landscaped with bike and foot paths, gardens, playgrounds and handsome streetlamps, and some of its old warehouses have been turned into a row of fancy shops. New dark-gray trams slither quietly through the city, looking anomalously modern but providing a great way to get around.

Didier Fiùza Faustino, the artist and architect who curated Evento’s “Intime Collectif” exhibition of outdoor installations (through Oct. 18) decided to center it around the amusement park that sets up twice a year on the Place des Quinconces in the city center as a way of drawing the general public into the game. The works he commissioned were installed on the nearby waterfront for the first few days of the event, with many of them programmed to move to different locations throughout the city to bring the art to the people and make it a populaire (as opposed to elite) event. Whether that works remains to be seen, but if you go within the next few days make sure you check the program on Evento’s Web site to find out where the artworks can be found. Some may stay around for longer than planned.

The works in the “Intime Collectif” exhibition are a mixed bag. One of the highlights is the centerpiece: a handsome wooden bridge by Tadashi Kawamata, entitled “Foot Path,” that spans the road and connects the amusement park to the waterfront park, with a second span that is abruptly cut off just at the edge of the river (bringing to mind the famous Pont d’Avignon), offering views of the river and the city from on high. On the bridges other side, a film by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, shown on a monumental screen and consisting of clips from other films (including the famous merry-go-round-out-of-control scene from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train) marks the entrance to the Foire des Plaisirs (through Nov. 9) amusement park. Nearby, the opulent, impeccably restored 18th-century Grand Théâtre in the city center has been invested by a number of artists from the city of Luanda, Angola, who present mostly photos and films.

One immovable piece that deserves a detour is Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitaï’s installation in the sinister submarine base built by the Nazis during World War II. This giant bunker-like structure, with a special scalloped roof designed to soften the effect of bombs, still has its water-filled parking bays for the submarines. In between them, clips from Gitaï’s films are projected on the walls, filling the eerie dark space with flickering light reflecting off the water and a cacophony of human cries and music, creating an altogether unsettling experience.

Another installation you should go out of your way to see is Anri Sala’s performance piece “Tease, Tease, Tease” in the Grand Parc area. Visitors sit on chairs outside a disused concrete community hall, decorated with colorful tiles and surrounded by 1960s-vintage housing blocks. Suddenly the building starts to emit a strange, slow version of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Eventually a hurdy-gurdy man and his assistant stroll slowly by, pushing their machine, which is actually producing the music, along with a sort of hand organ played by another strolling man.

A new installation commissioned by the city that must not be missed is “Maison des Personnages,” by Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. For this permanent installation, the couple had carte blanche to play with an entire city block, a sort of island surrounded by roads and tram tracks. To integrate it into the surrounding neighborhood, they built an ordinary-looking “house” in the local blond stone and surrounded it with benches, a garden and a playground. When the neighbors arrive to investigate, they can freely indulge their voyeuristic tendencies by peeking through the windows. Each room has been decorated as the domain of a different imaginary person, who describes him- or herself in a first-person text on a plaque hung next to the window. It is pure delight to discover the inner world of each of these strange individuals, among them a crazed inventor. a lonely old lady and a hoarder who collects memories.

Meanwhile, at the Entrepôt Lainé, a wonderfully restored brick warehouse that is a must-see on any visit to Bordeaux, CAPC, Bordeaux’s contemporary art museum, and the Arc en Rêve Centre d’Architecture have collaborated on an exhibition called “Insiders” (through Feb. 7), which examines how art is embracing folklore and, on the architectural side, what “local” means in the Internet age and how people are coming together in new ways.

This is a complex exhibition that offers many pleasures, but requires plenty of time to study and understand its often-conceptual exhibits. One example is “De la France Mystérieuse,” an installation by young French artists Pierre Fisher and Justin Meekel, which at first looks like nothing but a few open cardboard boxes on the floor containing some booklets. The work is in the booklets themselves: inspired by a 1966 book called La France Mystérieuse, by René Alleau, the pair traveled to villages around France and dug up more mysteries by talking to the locals. The results – stories and images – were published in eight booklets they printed up themselves in their Peugeot 205 and handed out along the way. (Click here to read the booklets online)

A more visually appealing installation is the beautiful upside-down “arch” made of colored string stretching across the ground floor by Los Angeles-based architects Ball & Nogues Studio, which shows how form and structure can be created out of the most minimal means. Another installation, “The Chairway to Heaven,” by architectural firm 2012 Architecten of Rotterdam, invites visitors to borrow a book from a shelf and climb a mountain of piled wooden chairs to the level of the second floor, where they can take a seat and read or enjoy the view of the exhibition from on high.

At the city’s impressive Musée des Arts Décoratifs, located in a beautiful 18th-century mansion, designer Jasper Morrison has created a game of “spot the modern object,” by discreetly inserting a few of his own simple, sleek designs into each room of period furnishings.

Two interesting occurrences during the opening weekend: At the inauguration of the Maison des Personnages, attended by Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, a surprise demonstration erupted, complete with children holding signs accusing him of pedophilia and demanding his resignation. The demonstrators were roughly and very efficiently moved away by the police. In another register, on the previous evening, guests who arrived late for a huge cocktail party hosted by Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, a former French prime minister, who was convicted for abuse of public funds in 2004, were served some fine Bordeaux wines in paper cups!

Heidi Ellison

“Intime Collectif”: Place des Quinconces and other locations throughout the city. Through Oct. 18 (though some exhibits may stay around longer). For the full program: http://evento2009.org/

“Insiders”: Entrepôt Lainé, 7 rue Ferrère 33000 Bordeaux, France. Tel.: 05 56 56 78 36 or 05 56 00 81 50 Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-6pm (8pm on Friday). Admission: €5 (free through October 18). Through February 7. www.arcenreve.com or www.bordeaux.fr/ville/capc

“Maison des Personnages”: Place Amélie Raba-Léon, 33000 Bordeaux.

“Jasper Morrison”: Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Bordeaux, 39, rue Bouffard, 33000 Bordeaux. Tel.: 05 56 10 14 00. Open Wednesday-Friday and Monday, 11am-6pm; Saturday-Sunday, 2pm-6pm. Free admission. Through January 18.

More reviews of art exhibitions.

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