Galleries Open by the Half-Dozen

Arcade rue Louise Weiss
Modern architecture shades new galleries of modern art.

One-Stop Shopping for the Inexplicable

Paris:- Wednesday, 23. April 1997:- You may have thought I had forgotten about Paris' 'Generation-X,' but I haven't. I've found quite a good magazine called 'Nova.' It contains a lot of information about what's going on - right now! - and it only costs 10 francs for 120 pages, and it appears to be printed on paper that has been recycled twice.

Nova's cover photos often feature local citizens with ear and chin studs as well as nose-rings, sporting colored and spiky hair.

Keeping up Metropole's quest for the far-out, today I am riding far-out to the wasteland of the east side of the 13th arrondissement. Besides SNCF railway yards and warehouses, this area's main feature is the colossal and new Bibliothèque Nationale, Tolbiac division.

Elsewhere in April's edition of Nova, there is a page devoted to this area under the heading of '(Rr) Rien' as in, nothing; with keywords such as 'curfew,' 'emptiness,' 'Baghdad Café,' 'the Blues,' and 'Is Anybody Home?' Agnés Giard, who put the feature together, says the most positive aspect is the area's silence.

Just slightly west of this misery, west of the railway freight yards, starting from the métro station Chevaleret - there is an area where all the buildings seem to belong to the Ministry of Finance and they are all shiny new. The rue Louise Weiss is a perfect example of nothing but marble, with rows of architect's perfect little trees.

On the east side of the rue Louise Weiss, in a brand-new, blocks-long building, underneath a modern gallery not unlike an arcade except there are no arcs; six modern art galleries have installed themselves.

They had their grand opening together on Tuesday, 1. April, this year. This news escaped me because Metropole is unknown in modern art circles - not to mention many others.

Metropole will probably remain unknown in modern art circles, but I, at least, have seen this new Louise Weiss and its six galleries and if modern art is your bag, you'll probably want to know about these places.

First off, they are not new. The six galleries previously existed in high-rent 'elsewheres' of Paris, and have grouped themselves here; in this sterile '(Rr) Rien' as in, nothing quarter - as a move towards the future. This involves the growing attraction of the nearby Tolbiac Bibliothéque Nationale Glass doorknobs and its future; as well as to its proximity to the new station on the new 'Meteor' rapid-transit system.

Detail of Phillippe Parreno's 'Snow Dancing.' 1994. Image courtesy 'Air de Paris.'

Also by grouping together, they make it convenient for modern art browsers to visit several galleries easily and with focus, because there isn't much else around. It's not a total desert, there are a couple of cafés, and the covered 'gallery' lends itself to dry browsing.

The six galleries have put together a mutual association, called 'Scène Est,' which is a structure that allows them to pool certain resources - such as promotion, mailing lists - and the plan is that they will renew their exhibited works together about once every 90 days. The opening expo runs to Saturday, 17. May and the following one begins on Saturday, 24. May.

Also, with mutual resources, the galleries will be able to put up a common Web site - which I believe is coming soon. Every gallery I was in, had a computer, and several were awaiting their Internet access.

Not being a gallery browser myself, I looked in the first; went in and talked in the second, and then returned to the first - so what follows may be a muddle - but I have grouped the galleries by their order below.

Phillippe Parreno's glass doorknob was seen at the 'Air de Paris' gallery, in a cardboard box filled with plastic popcorn and with other doorknobs, on the floor. When I saw the computer I asked if they had an image file, and that it what is presented here - the doorknob as a doorknob. Mr. Parreno was born in Oran and lives in Paris. The 'Air de Paris' gallery was started in Nice and its Paris branch was in the 3rd arrondissement before coming here.

I know this modern work has no nationality, and before Manga comics go 'Barbie' I think to ask if any of the artists are French, I see Takashi Murakami's huge 'Manga' personage in the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, where they were very busy putting the promo together for the coming show.

One of Takashi Murakami's huge 'Manga' figures - sort of a '90's 'Barbie' on steroids.

Apparently the figure is a part of the 'Hiropon' sculpture movement, which features life-sized figures with excesses more extreme than in comic books; in fact Murakami convinced a 'Manga' artist to adopt his sculptures as models, reversing a trend from comics to Pop. When they are not doing these things, they sit around trying to figure out if it should be called 'Neo Pop Art.'

At Praz-Delvallade I had a good look at Jim Shaw's drawings, shown in this gallery in his first French exhibit. The comic-strip-like pencil drawings are of his own dreams, and underneath each, there is an additional hand-written story, of a sorts. Jim Shaw has taken part in a number of exhibitions in Europe: Milan, Vienna, Frankfurt and lives in Los Angeles.

I saw the low-backed armchair on the wall in the 'Art: Concept' gallery that was done by Max Mohr, who was born in Frankfurt. This gallery also started in Nice, had a branch in Athens and worked with other Mediterranean-region galleries, before moving to Paris. The press release says that Max Mohr's work is "an attempt to escape classification and the quest for truth we automatically undertake when faced with an unknown thing."

That may be, but Max Mohr's 'wallseat' I appreciated Max's efforts to lend a 'control panel' to nearly all of his objects - very reassuring. That they looked like they'd been cast from '50's plastic table radio knobs makes no difference to me: it's the thought that counts.

Max Mohr's 'unclassifiable chair' which looks like a chair hanging on a wall to me.

Before I got to the last gallery in the row, I noticed what seemed to be a sort of tour group following me. As they didn't seem to have a bus waiting for them, and they didn't look like visitors from another continent - although about a third appeared to be Asian - they aroused my curiosity. They were 'doing the galleries' quicker than I was, so when they caught up, I caught one of them taking a smoke break outside, and... found out he wanted to play guessing games.

I just didn't 'get it' and gave up. But a bit later, catching another one taking a break from hectic gallery-hopping, I learned that they were students from 'Paris 8' - from some plastic arts class in Saint-Denis. Ah yes; very handy having all these modern art galleries in a row - they can tour them wholesale.

All the same, the street is quiet and the sun is shining and we have a good chat about the workmanship that goes into - some - modern art. There is a dividing line between good handwork and slop and you can get away with slop if the idea seems important and if it comes through, but without it, sloppy work is boring. Then the tour crowd finished and installed itself on a sunny café terrace, and I hit the last gallery.

The Galerie Arps seems to be 'ex' and is now called Galerie Almine Rech - but quite possibly it is called both - and its show is called 'Fenêtre sur Cour / Rear Window.' Besides paintings and photos, this gallery has video - in one part there is a projection going, and in another corner there is a video recorder playing into a miniature Casio screen set on the floor.

The press release says, "There may be no self-evident reason for bringing together the works of twelve artists under the title 'Rear Window,' but the subject is like a game..." I read this and I think maybe I shouldn't.

They could be more positive; they could invent a 'reason' for this. The 'art business' is not mine so if they want to do it this way, who am I to say it is less than perfect? You don't understand this thing? The reason is because it is not 'self-evident.' These twelve unrelated artists were brought together for... murky reasons? If so, why not say so?

This is needless nit-picking, mainly because gallery browsers do not read 'press releases' and I don't suppose I should either; because I look at the stuff and if it is not 'self-evident' I can figure that out for myself. There's no rule that anything in life has to be self-evident. Too much 'self-evidence' is flat boring. If modern art were self-evident, there wouldn't be any.

As snarky as I may sound here, I am having a good time talking to the gallery people and they seem pretty sensible even though they spend all their time trying to sell stuff made by 'murky' people called 'modern artists.'

I'm in luck too, because at the Galerie Almine Rech I get to meet Rebecca Bournigault, one of the video artists. She has Auto-portrait by artist by reporter cold hands from riding down here on her bicycle. We talk about video, analog and digital, and cold hands. I try to hook one of her works out of the computer but either they are not in easy files to find, or they are not catalogued - and besides they are busy too.

"Sans Titre" - color photograph by Rebecca Bournigault, 20. December 1996. 1/3. Courtesy Galerie Almine Rech.

So I take a photo of Rebacca's photo of herself that she took with a digital camera, and because I take it with my digital camera and because this is the Web, you cannot see just how 'digital' her video print looks, but you can almost see my 'murky' reflection in the glass over her print.

It briefly spurted through my mind to try and get her into the same pose beside her self-portrait. But her print is too high on the wall and there's nothing for her to stand on, so I let it slide.

It is about the same as getting a mouse to pose watching Linda Post's video installation with the mini Casio screen. Her name for it is 'Mouse III: Stretch,' which is exactly what I did when I first saw it. According to a very poor video-print in the press release, the video is about a mouse trying to sneak some cheese out of a trap.

It is a 'stretch' to see it and it is 'murky' when you do. If this isn't self-evident, I don't know what is.

From closest to the métro, to furthest:
Art: Concept, number 34
Air de Paris, number 32
Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, number 30
Galerie Praz-Delavallade, number 28
Galerie Almine Rech, number 24
Galerie Jennifer Flay, number 20:- all on rue Louise Weiss, Paris 13.
Hours: from Monday to Saturday, 14:00 to 19:00.

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