PARIS — Following large-scale interventions by Anselm Kiefer, Richard Serra, Christian Boltanski, and Anish Kapoor, it's French artist Daniel Buren's turn to have his eagerly-anticipated solo show for Paris's giant-sized Monumenta program of commissions. In this in situ piece, "Excentrique(s)" — which means both "elliptical" and "eccentric" — which opened to the public yesterday a the Grand Palais and remains visible through June 21, the artist started with the north entrance, building a true artificial landscape, a passageway that takes visitors under a canopy of circle-shaped colored pergolas, leading to a sort of clearing under the big space's large central dome. There, mirrors have been installed, reflecting the ambient colors of the installation in an extraordinary way.
The work cost €1.5 million ($1.9 million) and Buren spent two years designing it, with numerous sketches and the determination to rise above space constraints. Created with the assistance of architect Patrick Bouchain, it took seven days to install. "The primary characteristic is light, volume, and air," Buren told ARTINFO France. "[The circles] are eight feet high, which is the ceiling height of the average apartment. Physically, the circles are off-center. You can really see how my work functions with the sun and the mirrors in the middle: everyone starts to be backwards!"
Light and airy, this display of 377 lofted plastic circles (plus three outside the Grand Palais), designed to be on a human scale and held up by very slim columns, constitutes a fun work, facilitating all manner of encounters. It's an intimate space, where you see life through rose-, blue-, green-, and yellow-colored glasses, and also a public space, where you can casually stroll — without, however, any sense of the bucolic, given the flamboyant artificiality of this work's environment. The circles give a psychedelic feel to the monumental building, especially at night.
"The show starts outside at the ticket office and ends on the roof," Marc Sanchez, Buren's artistic director for Monumenta, told ARTINFO France. "The very process of the work is this path that takes hold of you without you realizing it, and following the arrows at the entrance is already being in the exhibition." The colored ticket you have to carry to get in is the first introduction of color, according to Sanchez, and, at the end, the massive glass roof of the Grand Palais appears as a blue grid and is accompanied by a large flag with a blue circle in the middle. As Sanchez puts it, "it's an exhibition that begins on the Champs-Elysées and ends in the sky."
Flashy and delicate, the installation also recalls a summer house. In fact, the cafeteria and the bookstore are included in the piece. "Buren wants this space to be a place in which people spend time and are immersed, not for them to see it as a sculpture," Sanchez said. A camera has been placed above the canopy so that the work can be seen from above. "If it had been possible to go up onto the passageways of the Grand Palais, I would have loved it," Buren said.
A very discreet soundtrack accompanies the show, with 37 people speaking 37 different languages reading the numbering system by which the red, yellow, blue, and green colors are arranged. Purposefully mysterious, it is played by high-tech speakers that continually turn 80 degrees so that the sound does not dominate. As you might lean down to hear the sounds of nature, here you walk while listening to sometimes imperceptible sounds.