"L'Effet Vertigo", organised for the museum's 10th birthday with works from the collection, explores artists' relation to history and its narratives. In Seven Corridors, Francois Morellet presents an in situ project that puts the visitor at the centre of the work.
On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, MAC VAL opens two new exhibitions from Saturday, 24 October 2015.
The Vertigo Effect
MAC VAL first opened in November 2005, so this year it is celebrating its tenth birthday: still young, but old enough to have a perspective over time, and to have put down roots in its territory.
For this birthday, the new exhibition of works from the collection explores artists’ relation to history and its narratives, and our own relation as viewers to what went before us.
The gaze – what informs and constitutes it – is an essential element of this relation. The subject of the interpreter is therefore at the heart of the works and at the same time addresses the person who is looking, the beholder who makes any work of art exist.
The invention of the gaze
This new hanging, titled “L’Effet Vertigo,” is guided by the artists’ individual relations to history in a double, reverse movement which implies a concomitant closing-in and distancing. This filmic process was invented by Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo in 1958, in order to suggest the dizziness felt by Scottie (James Stewart) on the famous stairs of the tower. It is designed to dramatize the subject by keeping them in the frame, so they don’t go out of view, by means of a simultaneous forward and backward oscillation.
This can be taken as a metaphor for reading history in the present and for the stratagems and various attitudes adopted in its regard, from the distancing vital to visual focus to the displacements and changes of scenery that are sometimes needed to get closer to the subject.
“I was and remain persuaded that the role assigned to creators is out of proportion compared to the one allowed to viewers. There is a whole history of art that needs to be rewritten here.”
With his customary insolence, François Morellet illumines this new hanging of the collection by questioning the notion of artistic genius and asserting the creative role of the interpreter. For it is the interpreter who gives and creates meaning, based on the narrative of the works. It is the beholder who adds, valorises, questions, and turns into music the story, notes, words, objects and time itself. Today, the museum is inviting visitors to question what constitutes their relation to the artwork and to history, what feeds and orients their gaze, this dimension of creativity, this space of thought that belongs to each one of us.
To this end, the exhibition sequence is deployed like a narrative in which the works embody and explore the questions of the gaze, the model, interpretation, reinterpretation, and revisiting. The artists brought together here reread, remake, replay or reinterpret historical facts, the use of materials, themes and subjects; they thus bring them into the light of a present that metamorphoses (them), either through the filter of their personal experience, or by sampling parts of this real past – objects, archives and stories – and projecting them into a universe that is other, a different situation, and towards a new meaning.
The hanging sets up a dialogue between works that relate the history of recent conflicts and explorations, episodes from scientific history, from the history of colonialism and decolonisation of which these artists are the products, that tell of traditions and rites, the history of objects, part of our own cultural history.
The point here is to consider, via these works, different ways of standing up to the authority of facts and questioning the status of narratives and myths by means of heroic postures or, on the contrary, with the insolence of modesty and personal experience, on the scale of 1:1.
This new exhibition of the collection no doubt constitutes the conclusion of a cycle begun somewhat chaotically and now finally synchronised. Thus, in 2010, the “Nevermore” hanging looked at memory and the past; in 2012, “Vivement demain” looked into a future that was by turns radiant and worried and disenchanted. Today, the point is to combine the two times and anchor ourselves in – and invent – the present.
The present is engendered, then, between past and future, but this present is precariously balanced between the authority, doubt and certainty inherent in history and the hope and freshness that must be preserved and cultivated in order to invent the future. Perhaps this choice of works should be seen as a form of questioning, posing the questions that the museum is called upon to answer today, linked to the dangers and difficulties that we are all experiencing: the violence and cruelty of a turbulent world, the ravages of the barbarism that culture, conceived as a rampart, seems incapable of stemming, to the extent that it too seems endangered. From a less dramatic viewpoint, institutional reforms make the future uncertain. Certainly, to mention these issues is to “date” this introduction, but here, more than ever, history must be questioned from the place where the artist stands, from the time in which (s)he lives and works – in relation then, to both past history and to “hot history,” to quote the concept forged by Claude Lévi-Strauss: a history that is imagined and evaluated in the light of progress. Fénelon said that the “good” historian was of “no time and no country.” That illusion, if not principle, is shattered by reality, and probably by the inevitably subjective role of one who considers and studies their in vivo from the vantage point of their in situ.
The role of the interpreter – an air of truth
It is in this rereading that the missing part comes into play: the absence and silence, the emptiness that enable the reader, the viewer, the interpreter, to create their share of the score. History is seen as a composer’s creation entrusted to a musician. Other fields and forms of expression connect with these themes of rereading and interpretation (execution): music, of course, the art of theatre, the archive, but also the restoration of artworks. For retouching, correcting, gaps and overpainting are at the heart of this hanging of the collection.
The restoration of artworks does effectively tend to offer the public a reading of a whole, of a body of work, of a sculpture, an object or a painting from which shards of matter are missing. Different techniques are used to, inpainting – a trattegio – to fill the gaps, and (even if they appear as such) allow an understanding of the artist’s original intention.
Ever since its origins, art has beheld and represented history, idealising and reinventing and mythifying it, commenting on it. In the 20th century, with the avant-gardes, history became physically present in the here and now via its traces, its documents and its archives.
History here takes on an air of reality, an air of truth, that is brandished like a banner, as proof, to celebrate the real, or to question and cast doubt on the story of the past.
Since the 1970s, and particularly since the 1980s, artists have questioned readings of history, using archives to spread the veil of doubt and to read it in the present. As the historian Sophie Wahnich points out, “In a logic of hot history, the ghosts of the past visit the present. ”2 And these ghosts inhabit artworks.
Many of the work in “L’Effet Vertigo” partake of this resistance to the authority of official narratives, and even revisit and contradict the initial interpretation of certain events. Of course, this is all very far away from the Ministry of Truth set up to rewrite history in George Orwell’s 1984. Today, though, the concern is to question its genesis and its manifestations, to remind ourselves that it is above all a creation and not a science, and that it therefore depends on the mentality of its age. A distance in time can allow us to make breaches, to question the vestiges of the past and the distortions of the present, to highlight optical illusions, to respond to time and its narrative.
So it’s all a matter of interpretation
Here, history and personal stories are intermingled. It cannot be otherwise. Reparation, rereading, reuse and repurposing are all iterative actions whereby we can go back over the dissonance of time frames and conjugate them at last. The works presented here place us in a vertiginous position, in a present perturbed by the reinvention of the past, but also encourage us to resist the current fabrication of knowledge, at a time when data provided for the interpretation of the present are created and disseminated anarchically. Each one of us can be at once the maker, distributor and receiver of content, at one and the same time: the present of information, that of the fabrication of history.
This game with traces of the past, these doubts about its value, their necessary reintegration, the restoration of this fragmented “whole,” gives us the chance to connect with what we are living through today, to shed light on a current reality that is both worrying and thrilling, to take stock of what is at stake in our being and partaking of the present. It is an attempt to avert and unpick the presages of the past, to escape the identical, looped repetition of history.
Head curator, MAC VAL
The exhibition “L’Effet Vertigo,” organised for the museum’s tenth birthday, is dedicated to Jacques Ripault, its architect, who died earlier this year.
François Morellet (born 1925, Cholet), is a major figure in contemporary art and a friend of MAC VAL ever since its opening. The museum collection includes several of his works (Carrément décroché n°1, 2007, currently features in the new hanging, “L’Effet Vertigo”).
Famous and known around the world (with over 450 solo exhibitions to date), he is taking over the 1,350 square metres of the temporary exhibition room with an in situ project that puts the visitor at the centre of the work.
Since he began making art in the early 1950s, his work has explored the combination of abstraction and humour. This “precisionist punster” as he is nicknamed has produced a radical body of work that combines rigour and humour. From a very early stage he worked to distance any kind of subjectivity or romanticism, those qualities traditionally associated with the artist as demiurge. Setting himself methods and constraints to both apply and subvert, he asserts his freedom by following rules.
Elementary forms (straight lines, squares, circles, triangles etc.), absence of figures, all-over, accented compositions, simple principles (grids, patterns, superimpositions, variations, systems, juxtapositions, fragmentations, integrations etc.), mathematical progressions, analytical breakdowns of the vocabulary of art, stripped-down language, puns and wordplay – such are the elements that impel his search for active neutrality. Square canvases, adhesive tape, neons, natural elements and hi-tech – anything can be used to pursue this programme which plays on randomness, and the infinite power of combinations and chance in the neutrality of materials and anonymity of finish against the patter of an amused conversation with art history.
François Morellet has pulled off the paradox of mixing geometrical abstraction, which is thought austere or, in any case, always rigorous, with the freedom and impertinence of those artists who, since Dada and, before that, the merry band of Les Arts Incohérents, have managed to overturn established norms.
Alfred Pacquement, in François Morellet, Réinstallations, Centre Pompidou, 2011, p. 13.
Following his projects in Lyon and Nantes (“Echappatoire,” from 6 June to 5 August 2007, Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, curator: Thierry Raspail; “Ma Musée”, November 2007–February 2008, Musée des Beaux-arts de Nantes, curator: Blandine Chavanne and Alice Fleury), “Seven Corridors” is the title of this new site-specific installation. As is his wont, Morellet imposes the constraints and the system that is applied automatically generates the work’s design. Often the title, in the form of a tautological, self-referential quip, offers a key to the system, which here is used to define seven corridors according to the principle of “random” lines, determined on the basis of the letters from two alphabets randomly laid out around a square.
7 corridors, 14 entrances/exits. Visitors are invited to explore this enlarged painting, this labyrinthine sculpture with sides of nearly 20 metres, thereby activating the work by their own movement.
Frank Lamy, Head of temporary exhibitions at MAC VAL
Morellet, the monstrous offspring of Mondrian and Picabia, has, since 1952, been developing a whole programme of systems as rigorous as they are absurd, using the simplest geometrical figures (straight lines, angles, planes, etc.) in the most diverse materials (canvases, mesh, neons, steel, adhesive, branches, etc.) on all kinds of supports (canvases, walls, statues, architecture, “landscapes”).
François Morellet, “Réduire à une phrase trente-cinq ans de travail,” July 1987, reproduced in François Morellet, Mais comment taire mes commentaires, Ensba, 1999.
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Preview Friday, 23 October, at 6.30 pm
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