Art and Archaeology Exhibitions
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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 15 APRIL 2016 — Carambolages, translated as a multiple crash or pile up, is a doggedly determined compilation of some 180 relatively minor works of art from all eras and cultures conceived by the retired museum curator, Jean Hubert Martin. No indication is given of what the actual works are unless one stands for a few minutes in front of a small video screen along a side wall where the information given is minimal. The curator’s idea, highly personal, was to present works of art, often strange and surprising ones, which "talked" to the viewer’s imagination and which have been deliberately jumbled up in order to break down one’s traditional approach to art. Thus a 17th century painting, Sainte Lucie by Niccolo de Simone, hangs next to the Idole aux yeux from the North of Mesopotamia, dating back to 4000 B.C. An imagined dialogue across almost 6000 years might have been obvious to some, but to the majority of visitors, it wasn’t.

So confusing is this show, cold and charmless and possessing no known masterpieces, the chosen works being linked by form, colour, material, or some form of visual impact, that it is difficult to recall just what hangs next to what. Gants-tête, a 1999 work by Annette Messager might relate to the skull depicted in the centre of the coffret–reliquaire from the cloisters of Gnadenthal in Switzerland dating back to the 17th century, but why were the two tiny drawings by Rembrandt, of a man and a woman relieving themselves, rubbing shoulders with a drawing by Giacometti?  What was Daniel Spoerri’s 1964, Variations on a meal doing, hanging in the middle? It needed a great stretch of the imagination to concede that each exhibit was arranged in a continuous sequence, where each work depended on the previous one and announced the following one, rather as in billards, Martin points out, where a single ball can touch two others.  A little more information would not have gone amiss for people remained frustrated rather than amused.

Annette Messager: Gants-tête
Photo credit: adagp paris 2016

One left this soulless, somewhat curious exhibition, where the atmosphere recalled a disused factory, feeling intellectually diminished and wondering whether in fact one was really rather stupid not to understand and appreciate it, but the comments of other visitors ranging from disappointing to mediocre, were consoling. The overall feeling was that the people who planned this highly subjective display must have amused themselves considerably more than those for whom it was destined. Tellingly, in a city where art is in high demand and where a discerning public, often spoiled by all the riches on offer and who have no need of any new-fangled approach to ’help’ them appreciate art, there were no queues to get in. 

Headline image: French school, Louis-Antoine de Gontaut, duc de Biron, in peacock, 18th century
© © Rmn-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Hervé Lewandowski

Through 4 July 2016
Grand Palais
3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower
75008 Paris
Tel: 33 (0)1 44 13 17 17

Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and senior editor at Culturekiosque.

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