"The Freak Show": Musee D'art Contemporain De Lyon

By Moulene, Claire | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

"The Freak Show": Musee D'art Contemporain De Lyon


Moulene, Claire, Artforum International


With a title like "The Freak Show," we might have expected to see Damien Hirst's creatures in formaldehyde, Ron Mueck's giants, or even Maurizio Cattelan's Pope John Paul II crushed by a meteorite. Yet the exhibition, curated by art critic Vincent Pecoil and architect/designer Olivier Vadrot, two of the codirectors of Lyon's nonprofit art center La Salle des Bains, contains no such figurative works. Rather, the exhibition transposes the concept behind sideshows--those spectacles that featured dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded women, contortionists, and the like--into the realm of art itself, presenting recent works that play with size and form in ways that might appear "monstrous" or strange. In the exhibition catalogue, Pecoil refers to what he calls the first "freak show of modern art," the "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art) exhibition organized by the Nazi regime in Munich in 1937. "The absence of the representation of the human body in the MAC exhibition," he writes, "is a way to question, from a distance and negatively, the principle and the success of that historic exhibition."

Calling on the imagery of the circus, the music hall, and cabinets of curiosities, the show had three sections: The first room served as a warm-up, presenting Claude Leveque's Normalement Votre (Normally Yours), 2000--a neon sign reading ANORMAL (abnormal)--and Kendell Geers's wall piece Post Pop Fuck, 2002, in which the expletive of the title has become nearly illegible through patterning. The second room referred directly to the fairground podiums on which freaks were exhibited, inviting the spectator at the center of the room to scrutinize the more or less comical anomalies arrayed along the walls against a background of wallpaper--Henrik Plenge Jacobsen's Anarchist Knight, 2007--and accompanied by panels carrying Francois Moriceau and Petra Mrzyck's "Untitled (Freak Show Drawings)," 2007, which served as whimsical "labels" for the other works, including their title, year, materials, and courtesy line. …

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