Monumenta at the Grand Palais

For the sixth year running, the vast interior of the Grand Palais in Paris has been transformed by one of the world’s leading contemporary artists. Following Anish Kapoor, who filled the 13,500 sq m space last year with the visceral ‘Leviathan’, this year is the turn of French conceptual artist, Daniel Buren.

The annual exhibition, ‘Monumenta’, is organised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, and encourages artists to create original responses to the singular architectural space. Buren’s site-specific installation, named ‘Excentrique(s)’, emphasises the magnificence of the original architecture with a multiplicity of huge, translucent discs of blue, yellow, red and green, suspended on stilts, towering over the visitors that pass beneath them.

The rawness of colour and light are integral to Buren’s work. As ‘Excentrique(s)’ harnesses the natural light that filters in through the glass-domed ceiling, it submits to its shifting intensity; the shape and form of the work in situ alters as the sunlight gathers and diminishes throughout the day. As the room floods with light, the stained glass colours evoke a sense of ecclesiastical transcendence.

But as well as visual perception, sound and motion – in this case, that of the spectator – are also central to the concept of Buren’s installation. Its spectators are encouraged to actively meander their way through its network of form and colour, in order that it might reveal to them the full complexity of its existence. In the same way that Buren approaches much of his work, its sprawling, mazelike presence permits infinite viewpoints: “There are no longer one or two viewpoints fixed in advance, but a multitude, without any hierarchy or order, which interact, interfere with and induce one another, in a process of mutual enrichment and contradiction. Each viewpoint has a meaning of its own, which does not annihilate the others.”

The artist has previously transformed the Guggenheim in New York and the Cour d’Honneur at the Palais-Royal, and choreographed a ballet that physically took place amidst the banality of daily life in the districts of New York. Constantly aware of the interaction between the artwork and its environment since he began producing work in 1965, Buren’s work has almost always been created in situ, inextricably connected with its surroundings. The artist never transports a ‘work’ to another site, as its context is central to its meaning.

Like much of his work, ‘Excentrique(s)’ must be seen in fragments. Yet the order and perspective in which these fragments are perceived depends upon the journey that is chosen by the viewer; each must navigate his or her own experience of the installation, and in doing so, each perception will be rendered unique.

Monumenta 2012 is open until 21 June. Images courtesy of Monumenta.

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