Le Silo

February 7, 2010By Graham McKerrowArchive

The Silo, with works by François Morellet and Lawrence Weiner. Photo © André Morin

If the superb collection of conceptual, minimalist and contemporary art housed in Le Silo, which opened in May, were on show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Tate Modern in London or the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it would attract great publicity and controversy – and a commensurate numbers of visitors.

Since it is displayed in a converted grain store in a small town 45 kilometers northwest of Paris, however, the Silo’s collection, which dates from the late 1960s to the present, may not be getting the attention it deserves, especially since it is open by appointment only.

This beautiful conversion and the expansive private collection of Francoise and Jean-Philippe Billarant it holds are both worth the journey. Enthusiasts of the work of artists like Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, and Richard Serra and their investigations of the relationships of art, object and space will be especially delighted.

Among the works by 29 artists, many are thought difficult by some but are gaining a wider audience. Examples include classic Carl Andre rolled-steel tiles, a heavy two-part work by Richard Serra leaning against a wall, and one of Donald Judd’s long metal boxes attached to the wall a couple of meters from the floor, interesting because it is unpainted unlike his often brilliantly colored works.

The Scottish artist Charles Sandison has covered the floor, ceiling and walls of one room with moving projected words like “anger,” “fear,” “desire,” “despair,” which also land on and label the visitors themselves.

Other works vary in size from small framed words by the American conceptual artist Robert


The second floor, with works by Cécile Bart, Carl André and Niele Toroni. Photo © André Morin

Barry, which ask questions and make comments, to Daniel Buren’s installation of a deconstructed shed made from slats and incorporating a pillar that supports the structure. The four doors seem to have been blasted from the doorways and come to rest against the gallery’s walls.

The Billarants hired the architect Xavier Predine-Hug, a former collaborator of Philippe Starck, to convert the 1948 silo for their collection. An internal first floor was added, interior walls removed or reduced, and windows inserted. In some cases, the works have been made for the space and the installation supervised by the artists. Barry oversaw the positioning of shiny silver words on the walls of the mezzanine, and Buren fitted his shed around the supporting pillar. The Swiss artist Neile Toroni created “Triangle for a Silo,” using red dots to focus attention on a towering window at one end of the first floor.

Although the building is made of concrete, it resembles a traditional church or temple as much as an agricultural or industrial construction. The tower houses a remarkable, multi-windowed studio apartment where the Billarants or visiting artists sometimes stay.

There were nine visitors when we were there, along with a well-informed guide, the Billarants themselves and Robert Barry, with whom the Billarants clearly have a long-standing relationship. Françoise Billarant’s informed enthusiasm about her collection added to the pleasure of visiting.

Graham McKerrow

Le Silo: route de Breancon, 95640 Marines. Tel.: 01 43 21 38 16 (call ahead). To get there, take the RER line A to Cergy Le Haut (€12.50 round trip), then take a taxi (about €25 each way) from the station or call 01 30 30 45 45 (www.0130304545.com). Admission: free. Open by appointment only.

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