Art to go
The exhibit Take Me (I’m Yours), at the Monnaie de Paris, invites the viewer to modify, trade, or even take home artworks by some of the world’s most important artists. Numero speaks with star curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Some things to be found in the joyous jumble of Take Me (I’m Yours): badges by Gilbert & George inscribed with political and ironic messages (“Decriminalise sex”), bonbons by Felix Gonzales-Torres and an edible marzipan skeleton by Daniel Spoerri. Roman Ondàk asks you to leave behind an object that belongs to you and take one left by the previous visitor. Christian Boltanski has piled together mountains of clothes, which the viewer may take home. There is a tree installed by Yoko Ono, on which the visitor is asked to place a wish; Koo Jeong-A’s dog wanders freely in the exhibit halls. This curatorial revolution was orchestrated by the museum’s director of cultural programming, Chiara Parisi, the artist Christian Boltanski, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, who has agreed to answer our questions.
Numéro : With Take Me (I’m Yours), you’re subverting the fundamental museum rule forbidding us from touching the works on display. You invite the visitors to play with the works, take them home…. Where did the idea for this project come from?
Hans Ulrich Obrist: When I was 16-17, in 1985, my school organized a class trip to Paris. I took advantage of the opportunity to break off and go see Annette Messager and Christian Boltanski at Malakoff. Christian said something that changed my life: “An exhibit needs to bring something new to the game. If it doesn’t, it’s forgotten.” And ten years later, I organized, for the first time, Take Me (I’m Yours) at the Serpentine Gallery in London with… Christian Boltanski. We had a simple idea: inverse the rules of the museum and allow everyone to touch, and above all to take with them, all or some of a work of art. The decision to mount the exhibit again today at the Monnaie de Paris is typical of my way of working. Each of my exhibits contains in its DNA the possibility of being repeated.
Is the exhibit now at the Monnaie de Paris a simple re-mounting of the 1995 show?
Not at all! An exhibit is a living thing in perpetual evolution. It creates itself as it is taking place, through dialogues with the artists, chance meetings…. You can’t have a predetermined plan. The 2015 exhibit, while it includes all the artists from the 1995 show, is full of new works. In 1995, the German artist Wolfgang Tillmans printed one of his photos in a newspaper, and the newspaper was available at the exhibit. Today, his photos can be accessed on a computer. We provide museum-goers with CDs on which the visitor can copy their personal selection of his works. Above all, we’ve invited a whole new generation of artists who weren’t on the scene twenty years ago. Danh Vo, Amalia Ulman and artists from the 89+ project, all born after 1989, who are exhibiting digital works. The exhibit has evolved a lot, and is informed by both the present and the future. But it has also evolved by drawing from the past. At the 1995 opening, an old man showed up. I had no idea who he was until he introduced himself: “Hello, I am Gustav Metzger, and I did what you’re doing now dozens of years ago.” That’s how I met the incredible Gustav Metzger, the 20th-century artist and activist, who is of course present in the 2015 exhibit. It was an omission at the time. Like the absence of Daniel Spoerri or Yoko Ono, who are in the current exhibit. They have worked for a long time with the idea of instructing viewers to take works, or to contribute something. We’ve also learned a lot about the “polyphony of centers,” the comprehension that artistic centers also exist beyond the Occident, in Asia, South America, etc.
The 1995 exhibit was a way of making the relationship to art less sacred. Do you still have this ambition?
Art always needs to be made less sacred. So many things remain forbidden in museums. Because, as the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno explained so well, there is always a “threshold” between the spectator and the work, a separation. We’re trying to reduce that. But the exhibit also responds to new elements. Since 1995, the art market has become incredibly important. What we’re proposing is an exhibit for everyone, that stresses the importance of giving and swapping, instead of profit-oriented exchanges! To this we add the digital element, with its capacity to exponentially multiply the possibilities for free exchange, to modify our way of working together, to socialize and to create works.
Is this exhibit, beyond modifying our relationship to art, trying to suggest another way of living as a society?
One of its objectives is certainly to enable other kinds of encounters, or “transformative experiences.” This is true for the public, which is invited to participate in new kinds of exchanges. But it is also true for the artists, who have produced unusual works for this exhibit. And it is true for the city itself. Because the works that the visitors will take away from the exhibit will wind up in homes throughout the city. In a few weeks, Take Me (I’m Yours) will be all over Paris. Felix Gonzales-Torres, who is remounting one of his pieces in the exhibit [an entire room covered with sky-colored bonbons that visitors are invited to taste], summed this all up very well in speaking of art as a virus that modifies the social body.
Take Me (I’m Yours) runs from September 16 to November 2014 at the Monnaie de Paris, 11, quai de Conti, Paris VIe. www.monnaiedeparis.fr
Interview by Thibaut Wychowanok