Saturday, 11 June 2016

"Groupe Mobile", Villa Vassilieff, Paris

Villa Vassilieff carries the name of Marie Vassilieff, a Russian artist who housed and fed luminaries of les années folles in the same Montparnasse courtyard that is now home to a new arts centre. This project could mark a new chapter for an already storied quartier and building, and this first exhibition tries to look at past and present and consolidate the two.

The Villa Vassilieff courtyard

The team working here has had the fortune of dealing with a legacy that is well documented, extremely popular and completely prescribed to history. The thematic keystone of the exhibition is a piece of research in to Marc Vaux’s collection of photographs of Montparnasse and its artistic community, on loan from the Centre Pompidou. The documentary aspects of the exhibition show a willingness to square up to the Villa’s past, and deploying the big names is both a canny marketing ploy and a way in for the less initiated.

These aspects have been navigated deftly, so that Villa Vassilieff retains control over its present by not getting lost in the building’s former lives. The inclusion of some important and challenging works by contemporary artists solidifies this intention. A new installation by Laura Lamiel, who is in residence for the opening exhibition, explores the link between the audience and the artist’s studio – appropriate given the content of the exhibition as well as the history of the space. Lamiel’s installation is bright, white, tiny and neat, with few artists’ tools or personal effects and no natural light. There is nothing here to suggest stereotypes of an artist at work, and this clean break from the past is refreshing, but perhaps also a comment on the nature of art now – art after Duchamp, and in the time of Damien Hirst and Ai Wei Wei doesn’t have to mean unique, signed and handmade.

There is other great work here, exploring some of modern and contemporary art’s game-changing movements, from Picasso through to Ed Ruscha, and in to site-specific installations and digital art. The highlights are the new works, like Lamiel’s installation and work by Emmanuelle Lainé, whose massive “spatio-temporal” trompe l’oeil photographic installation mirrors the room it is in, making it feel simultaneously huge and dizzyingly claustrophobic with its wide vision of the space and sloping angles. The size of the work and elements within it that unify the show (including Vaux’s photographs) give it an authority and status otherwise not accorded to anything in the space, which can feel chaotic at times.

There are also important ideas: in an age of celebrity where well-known artists’ ephemeras are collected as widely as their art, it is pertinent to question whether photographs of and letters between artists are of equal importance to their work. This is where the exhibition comes in to its own – editions and works in series sit alongside these photographs and new works, and the question of whether they are or should be placed on equal footing is left to the audience to answer.

However, one of the great problems of the show is the way things are organised – Kim Beom’s Man Screams at Yellow Paint is hiding under a windowsill where it is too easily missed. Some of the hanging at first looks haphazard but upon further inspection is downright cheeky – why put a miniature Calder mobile almost out of sight? Perhaps because you don’t care about it.

Centres like this exist in order to give curators and artists space to experiment and provoke discussion and, faults aside, the Villa Vassilieff has done that. The Groupe Mobile show is challenging, thought provoking, but just a bit too confusing. Fortunately for Villa Vassilieff, if this exhibition is to be read as a statement of intent then there are more than enough ambitious minds involved in the project to ensure this particular space quickly escapes the shadow of the past and continues Marie Vassilieff’s legacy on its own terms.

Groupe Mobile is on show at Villa Vassilieff until 2nd June.

This was originally written as a school project back in about March. I've edited it for this blog, but not much.
I got an A+ for it, if you're interested.

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