Tuesday, June 10, 2008
This past weekend B and I decided to check out Monumenta 2008. Each year at the Grand Palais in Paris an artist is invited to create an original work to display to the public. The subject is determined by the artist with the hopes of engaging the public in an active dialogue with the work, and to become better familiarised with the creative process initiated by the artist. In addition to the work installed in the Grand Palais, there are numerous forums and events drawing on the main work to inform discussions in fields such as music, philosophy and dance.
This year the american sculptor Richard Serra was chosen to exhibit and he responded with this monumental installation, called "Promenade", of five steel panels measuring 17 metres high, 4 metres wide and each weighing 75 tonnes. And really, to fill up the nave of the Grand Palais they needed to be that immense. You can read more about it at the official site of the exhibit, and view prettier photos of the installation itself.
However, I must say that for all that is written about "Promenade" and all the photos one can take, it is really difficult to appreciate what Serra has done here without being in the space. It shares in fact much that is problematic in regard to documenting architecture. The whole point of seeing "Promenade" is not only seeing the work, but it is about moving through it and around it, from various vantage points throughout the hall, with various scenarios of natural light. In addition to the relationship developed between spectator and art, which by the way completely shatters the formal paradigm of a pre-established social/intellectual perspective, there is the dynamic between spectator and spectator.
You are aware that this is a public space and you are sharing it with other people. They become part of the field of perception, they are integral to the relationship with the installation. Yet, at the same time the experience is private and internal. You decide how you wish to set up the relationship with the work, and with others. We saw people taking photos in front of it and of it, children running around deleriously shouting at the top of their voices delighted with the reverberations, some other people meditatively contemplating from benches lining the nave. When I witness a scene like this I am reminded of how modern art is about the public domain, it is about bridging the distance between something precious and distant to something we can personally integrate into our lives. As Serra says, it's about "getting Art off the pedestal". The results are empowering and full of possibility.