Magazine article Artforum International

La Triennale 2012: PALAIS DE TOKYO AND OTHER VENUES, PARIS

Magazine article Artforum International

La Triennale 2012: PALAIS DE TOKYO AND OTHER VENUES, PARIS

Article excerpt

"INTENSE PROXIMITY" is a sexy name for an exhibition showcasing art produced for a postcolonial era. It intimates a situation in which distinct cultures, thanks to new technologies and economies, are brought within kissing distance of one another, even if they ultimately end up coming to blows. And by privileging proximity over, say, mixture, an exhibition can explore the differences that persist despite the homogenization that rhetorics of Western globalism often favor. Such was the accomplished goal of La Triennale 20 12, which opened at the newly renovated and expanded (though still tastefully grungy) Palais de Tokyo this spring. Organized by veteran perennial curator Okuwi Enwezor (along with Melanie Routeloup, Ahdellah Karroum, Emilie Renard, and Claire Staebler), "Intense Proximity" assembled more than one hundred image and object makers from scores of countries (with a particularly strong showing of Eastern European artists), all of them addressing the powerful aftereffects (and after-affects) of cultures pushing up against one another.

The massive exhibition occupied three floors, as well as off-site locations such as the Musee Galliera (the fashion museum facing the Palais de Tokyo), whose facade became the support for El Anatsui's radiant drapery, and the Louvre, which allowed visiting scholars and artists to give tours of its collection according to topoi of La Triennale. The exhibition sprawled across disciplines, too: Several "contributors" were anthropologists, including such legendary figures as the late Claude Levi-Strauss and Timothy Asch. Instead of a traditional catalogue, Enwezor edited an anthology that placed writings in art history alongside those of ethnographers, anthropologists, and postcolonial theorists (Edouard Glissant, Jean Rouch), thus bringing art history to a position of scholarly proximity with social science.

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If all those disciplines are inextricably tied to the advent I Western modernism, Enwezor effectively deflated that welta nschauung in the opening rooms with objects that politicized twentieth--century abstraction. Daniel Buren applied his signature stripes to chicken wire, which, stretched across the main entry point of the exhibition, subtly converted museum attendants into border guards. Monica Konvicini torqued the primary structures of Minimalism by topping a mirrored cube with an incomplete cube of chains, testing the weight of metal and slavery against the lightness of viewers' narcissism and denial. Ivan Kozaric's assortment of objects made of bronze, wood, and other materials related to the show's conceit more overtly by exploring tactility and intimacy; his soft and slumping forms looked as if they had once been small, thumb--pressed things that had somehow mutated into Larger sizes.

This attention to modernist form at the show's start implicitly rebutted those who have accused Enwezor of emphasizing politics at the expense of aesthetics--an argument that would be difficult to sustain here, given the exhibition's remarkable number of works that managed to calibrate sensuous appeal with radical insight. In this respect, Camille Henrot's mirthful installation of plants, Is It Possible to Re a Ret revolutionary and Like Flowers?, 2012, was paradigmatic. Kits of said flora were pinched off, displayed in a sort of heterodox ikebana (appropriate For a Japanese Palace" in Paris), and given botanical labels that presented, in addition to plant taxonomy, titles of literary works encouraging an allegorical interpretation of the specimen. …

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