3rd Paris Triennale: Intense Proximity: Various Venues 20 April to 26 August

Article excerpt

After ten months of renovation, the Palais de Tokyo reopened as the main venue for the 3rd Paris Triennale 'Intense Proximity', which focused on artists' and curators' relationships with the 'contested terrain of ethnography'. Almost tripled in square footage at a cost of some [euro]20m, the Palais de Tokyo is a monument to the unfinished building or abandoned warehouse 'look' that has become a recent biennale convention. Dust, exposed cables, sealed uneven concrete floors, partially hacked-off plaster walls, temporary partitions and explicit traces of the building's past exemplify expensively constructed images of multivalent spaces, illusions of informality and faux signifiers of austerity. What a playground for reviving Jean Baudrillard's simulacrum and the 'Beaubourg effect' from 1977 to characterise a cultural cathedral to recent euro-zone crises.

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Deep inside the building, Alfredo Jaar's video du voyage, des gens (Travel, People), 2011, prompts this idea. Most of its three-minute length is a dose focus on a Roma woman m traditional dress seated on cobble stones playing a vertical fiddle as though in a contemporary ethnographic documentary. Finally, the camera pans out to reveal that she is seated in the Place Georges Pompidou in front of the towering 'Beaubourg'. In 2010 President Sarkozy supported the policy of Roma--who are EU citizens but described in France as gens du voyage (travelling people)--being removed from the outskirts of Paris and deported. The policy attracted fierce criticism on grounds of illegal ethnic cleansing of migrants. History repeated? For Baudrillard, the 'Beaubourg effect' was a cultural manifestation of displacement, dissuasion and deterrence: the 'masses rush toward Beaubourg as they rush toward disaster sites, with the same irresistible elan'.

In 2005, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin proposed that the newly restored Grand Palais be host to the first triennale, 2006's 'La Force de l'Art', not only to rival established biennales, such as the Whitney in New York, but also to stake out a central place in the recent proliferation of these events. In February 2003, de Villepin, who was then foreign minister, was obliged to stand in front of the covered (at the US's request) tapestry version of Picasso's Guernica at the UN in New York to criticise Secretary of State Colin Powell's now discredited presentation of the US case that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction and that war may be needed to force it to 'disarm'. In this context, Paris triennales are part of a new well-funded cultural cold war. Representations of French and US political disagreements characterised biennale and exhibition culture in the early cold war years after 1945. Furthermore, cultural symbols to attract global attention were part of the French state's expressions of la difference in the 196os and 7os: in relation to the US war in Indo-China, where France was colonially dominant until the early 1950s, and the domestic crisis of the Paris-based abortive revolution of 1968. The Pompidou Centre, named after Prime Minister and then President Georges Pompidou, was begun in 1972. Opened in 1977, 'Beaubourg', nicknamed after the area cleared in Baron Haussmann's fashion to erect the building and its enormous square, launched an exhibition blitz with large 'encyclopedic' catalogues in renewed competition with New York as symbolic centre of postwar 'western civilisation' and the Museum of Modern Art as its monumental embodiment: 'Paris-New York' was followed by 'Paris-Berlin 1900-1933', 'Paris-Moscou 1900-1930' and in 1981 a triumphant 'Paris-Paris 1937-1957'.

To assert national identity in 2006, biennale culture could not be ignored The first triennale bypassed a seemingly passe 'Beaubourg effect' by focusing on the Grand Palais, symbol of Beaux Arts and the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition. However, it continued Beaubourg's 'Paris-Paris' legacy of cultural superiority by presenting some 35o works by 200 artists who were French or resided in France. …