Last Thursday, the Palais de Tokyo reopened its doors, inaugurating its revamped digs with a 28-hour bonanza of performances, concerts, and installations. The line to get in was worse than we imagined, as the public turned out in droves to check it all out, with a queue unfurling beyond the closest metro, many blocks away.
The already-sprawling concrete arena—it’s now three times bigger than it used to be—underwent ten months of renovation at the hands of architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, who were also responsible for the building’s 1990s-era restoration. The upper gallery is capped with a luminous sunroof, while the lower galleries have a dark, raw, unfinished appearance that deliberately still look very much under construction. Also in the mix: projection rooms, an extended bookshop, Tokyo Eat, plus a new restaurant on the lower concourse. Basically: endless room in which to display a wide assemblage of contemporary art pieces, some of which skirt the line of what is or isn’t conceptually compelling.
In the compelling category: Ulla von Brandenburg’s “Death of A King,” an enormous rainbow-hued curved concourse, like a skater boy fever dream with a spin-art twist. Another vivid space: the brightly painted walls (cerulean, turquoise, red, magenta) at the hand of Jean-Michel Alberola, enhanced with graphic and textual flourishes. Near the restaurant, and also visible from the street, are Christian Marclay’s stained glass windows, which add a good dash of humor. Marclay turns the medium often devoted to somber Christian panoramas on its head: his stained glass windows instead burst with onomatopoeic comic book exclamations. Ka-Pow! indeed.
In the less compelling category: Peter Buggenhout’s The Blind Leading the Blind, an enormous work suspended near the entrance which looks like a piece of combusted machinery. Jacques Lizènes’s installation, part of which includes a huge bag of debris with a sign on it—“OEUVRE: NE PAS JETER”—felt like the art equivalent of a teenager’s “Do Not Enter Sign” on the door. Frankly, if the construction workers renovating the building would haul your work out with the rest of the wreckage and rubble, this seems somewhat telling of what divides the men from the boys, artistically-speaking.
Throughout the space, pop-up performances were scheduled regularly. I happened upon a pianist playing Debussy in the Espace de Meditaton, where listeners sat attentively on a pillow-strewn floor. Later, while seeking more Japanese whiskey and soft pretzels, Gloria Friedman’s Dolce Vita suddenly came to life. That is to say, an ensemble of girls in lab coats began dancing with pastel-painted skeletons, twirling them about a purple stage to a French chanson. Upstairs under the sunroof, Gwenael Morin’s Introspection lined up actors in a row. Point-blank facing the audience, the performers recited their lines in unison. Costume-free, back-drop-free, and with little distance between the stage and the spectators, it felt intimate.
One of the most interesting contributions was also the most discreet. Romanian illustrator-cartoonist Dan Perjovschi’s Le Dessin du Palais felt whimsically scrawled, but in fact plunged into the discomfort of modern French politics. France’s controversial policy of laicité, which forbids any outward indication of religious faith or practice, is presented here with sharp-tongued irony. In one of Perjovschi’s scattered drawings, a man points at a woman and asks her “Burka or Nikab?” In turn, she points at his jeans and queries “Levi’s or Diesel?”
The Palais de Tokyo will soon launch La Triennale, a contemporary art exhibition entitled “Intense Proximity” curated by Okwui Enwezor. The Palais’ new president Jean de Loisy, has campaigned to make the space a “must” in both Paris and the broader contemporary art circuit. Whether or not the refurbished blockbuster arena has a true ripple effect in the art world, it’s quite fun to see this assemblage of anomalous visions and mild madness.