Finding Harmony in
“Duet Room.” © MONA/Rémi Chauvin Image Courtesy MONA Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
The Maison Rouge contemporary art space in Paris is currently offering an odd jumble of a show called “Théâtre du Monde,” consisting of bits and pieces belonging to the eccentric Australian art collector David Walsh Long presented alongside objects from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
The exhibition is divided into 17 independent spaces. Contemporary art sits alongside Oceanic and aboriginal artifacts, an antique clock and some mahogany furniture. There are no labels or explanations – visitors must make do with a brochure handed out at the entrance in which each item is referred to by a number.
Jean-Hubert Martin, the exhibition’s curator, is known for his original approach to museology. He puts artworks together in unexpected ways, mixing time periods and disciplines, opening new perspectives and preferring interactions between works to a historical narrative. Emotions and sensibility come before intellectual discourse.
Walsh has built his own cliff-side museum in Tasmania. Opened in 2011, the Museum of Old and New Art, or MONA, cuts to the chase with a sharp focus on sex and death, exemplified in works by some of the contemporary art world’s best-known names, from Marina Abramović to Damien Hirst, the Chapman brothers and Christian Boltanski. In less than three years, it has become Tasmania’s top tourist attraction.
In France, Walsh is probably best known for a Faustian pact he made with Boltanski in 2009. In return for financing a camera permanently installed in Boltanski’s studio, near Paris, to record video footage until the artist’s death, Walsh will apparently profit from the the artist’s early demise and lose out financially if he lives to a ripe old age. Perhaps disappointingly for the Australian gambling magnate, the artist lives on, for now.
In his Tasmanian museum, Walsh has adopted a display approach not unlike Martin’s. “Rather than collect similar objects and study their differences, I have a tendency to look at very different objects and search for their similarities,” he says.
At the Maison Rouge, his collaboration with the curator has produced a visible meeting of minds – the same encyclopedic vision and unconventional way of seeing and doing things. The exhibition is orchestrated around the principle of organized chaos, corralling widely disparate objects into relationships of harmony or counterpoint.
In one room (pictured above), for example, two fans facing each other blow a loop of ribbon back and forth. Two stags’ antlers challenge one another from opposite walls. Between them, a TV screen in the middle of the room shows a video of two dogs sitting side by side, while above it a painting by Albert Tucker depicts two gamblers facing off across a card table. The theme is duality, expressed in collusion, competition and conflict.
Works by significant contemporary artists, including Abramović and Hirst, can be seen in this show, together with leading avant-garde Australians who are less often to be seen in Paris, including Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley. Perhaps the most interesting section is an extraordinary collection of tapa, or Pacific barkcloths, beautifully presented in a pyramid-
Pacific barkcloths presented with a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti and an Egyptian statue. Photo: Marc Domage
like chamber with a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti and an Egyptian statue.
This dense, eclectic collection is packed with minor works by the big contemporary beasts, but without enough context for visitors to make much of them. It nevertheless provides plenty of food for thought – to help with digestion, the bilingual catalog provides (for an additional €24) some useful information in essays by Martin and the French art historian Thierry Dufrêne.
La Maison Rouge: 10, boulevard de la Bastille, 75012 Paris. Métro: Quai de la Rapée or Bastille. Tel.: 40 01 08 81. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (until 9 p.m. on Thursday). Admission: €8. Through January 12, 2014. www.lamaisonrouge.org
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