01. Intro

Thierry Raspail


Thirty years ago, in the mid-1980s, the idea of Modern was declared old hat, finished. It was dropped because people were convinced that they were entering the Post-modern age – the end of political blocs and antagonisms, the end of history and the end of “grand narratives”. This unified world was probably going to be better. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Conflicts became fragmented and scattered throughout the world. History continued, perhaps even more tragically than before, and the meta-narratives, which had become micro-narratives, took over our imaginations to the point where we began to doubt reality. Works of art, whether painting or sculpture, video or installations, did not escape the hold of these narratives. Our exhibition, Ce fabuleux monde moderne (“This Wonderful Modern World”), is just such a narrative: that of a collection reinterpreted in the light of today’s world. But first, why this return to the Modern? We could explain it simply as being due to a galloping globalisation that saddled us with a world of flux, permanent and spreading in all directions: digital networks, capital, technology, material, migration. These flows have created a new episode in the success story of the “Modern”. In the visual arts this to-ing and fro-ing has been responsible for the appearance of some outstanding artists from cultural areas that had previously been undervalued by the West: China, India, South-East Asia, the Middle East, and certain African countries. If there has been dialogue, however, it is because the artists from “elsewhere”, who might reasonably have withdrawn into their native identity, rejecting the Western modernist enterprise as colonialist, decided instead to accept the Modern and bring it up-to-date, changing the rules and extending its colours and contours in the process. This makes the world of Ce fabuleux monde moderne an extended Modern world, in an art world that is no less extended. This new kind of Modern is the condition of art today; its benchmark and its shadow. The exhibition opens with a video work suspended on a giant screen. It is by William Kentridge, famous for having taken a radical stance, at the time, against the shameful racial policies of his native South Africa. The work is a procession of shadows: cut-out paper silhouettes filing along to the insistent rhythm of a jaunty tune. Every human type, age group and profession is there; they meet, converge and pass on. They file endlessly past on a loop. But to what fate are they destined? The work uses shadow theatre and is all lightness. But that lightness is all the more effective in bringing out the tragic element of day-to-day life in all its fragility, a quotidian at the mercy of all the kinds of apartheid that lurk in the shadows and threaten the history of the world. 

Californian artist Ed Ruscha’s exclamation in 1980 could have been the title of the exhibition at the Plateau. Ruscha was recalling with amusement the impression that the modern architecture in an area of Mexico City called the Pedrigal had made on him twenty-five years before. It was an eclectic assemblage of old-fashioned experiments and buildings. This Modern, which people had thought was totally passé, over and overtaken, is nothing of the kind. To the contrary, it is in rude health. It evokes the delicious nostalgia of a broken promise of happiness crumbling before our eyes. It is exactly what is suggested by Lawrence Weiner’s work titled Masses of Rusting Metal Spreading Stains upon the Surface of the Earth, which evokes the sad destiny of forgotten sculptures, cravenly abandoned by an economy converted to digital values. The work is on the floor, it is yellow and red and belongs as much in the world as in our imagination. It lies hard up against Soto’s Penetrable, created in 1988 and also yellow. This work can take up as much as 1200 square metres, but we have restrained ourselves here so as not to take up the entire space of the Plateau. Soto, instigator of a happy and undisciplined modernity typical of the 1960s, invented a kind of sculpture that blends into the space; it is unsentimental and seemingly neutral. But the act of penetrating it totally changes our view. From the translucent barrier that it was, it changes into a zone of contact and discovery. To go into it is to experience a cluttered space in which an “other” – someone like us – is trying, like us, to make their way through, and, like us, is finding their way as they go: an apt metaphor, perhaps, for the Modern. As one extracts oneself from the Lyon Penetrable, one comes face-to-face with a laundromat sculpture, turning on its axis at the accelerating speeds of the wash and spin-dry cycles. Rotomatic is the title of this work created in 2011 by Daniel Firman. The technology is perfectly controlled but inverted, poeticised and stood on its head. Behind it looms Chernobyl. This huge photograph that Louis Jammes made for the 1st Lyon Biennale in 1991 is the only picture taken right inside the atomic power station. Four years after the nuclear accident, when access to the site was still forbidden, the artist flouted all the safety rules and went inside. The work is clearly evidence of an uncompleted, uncontrolled kind of Modern, a symbol that leaves a tragic shadow hanging over us. Hans Neleman, on the other hand, demonstrates how modern the ritual of tattooing is among Maoris – city-dwellers who wear ties and for whom the ancient and the modern live in perfect harmony together. “They gave me my father’s shirt when he died. I think of my ‘moko’ as a member of the family. It’s not frightening or radical, just a natural part of life”, James Patariki said about his photo portrait. Neleman realised this set of five works for the 4th Biennale, which bore the title Partage d’exotismes (Shared Exoticisms). Further along our way, we encounter Youth in Asia (sombre pun), a mausoleum sculpture by Californian artist Terry Allen. It is a tribute to twenty-yearold GIs who took a one-way trip to Vietnam. Rock music of the period can be heard – Hendrix, Joplin… What now remains of that great drama? A few guitar chords, some lead and a little man made of chewing gum. Before we hear what is being played inside Laurie Anderson’s table – by blocking our ears or looking at the pages of her book as the wind flicks through them – we get to see Marina Abramović and Ulay slapping each other, screaming, getting tangled up and then finally sewing up their mouths. Silence! Korean artist Nam June Paik worked directly with television sets at an exhibition in Wuppertal in 1963. By using the small screen for experiments and criticising the blandness of TV programs, he invented, without realising it, the video installation. These three works, from a set of nine made between 1963 and 1967, were reconstructed by the artist for the 3rd Biennale – thirty-two years later, just as the Internet was beginning its inexorable takeover of everything. But if there is one work which embodies this wonderful dialogue with “the modern world”, it has to be Back of Hollywood by Ed Ruscha (him again), painted in 1977. It brings us faceto-face with Hollywood, or rather it takes us behind Hollywood. The legendary sign on the slope of the Santa Monica Mountains stands, in this painting, on the crest of the ridge, as if in Cinemascope and glorious 1960s Eastmancolor, against the setting sun, glowing and eternal. The sign is painted back to front. It is a “landscape” that cannot be seen “in reality”. Without seeming to make any kind of criticism, without describing anything in particular, with great economy and deliberately choosing to be light and humorous, Ruscha painted the hidden side of the spectacle, the inverted image of society. With great elegance and no more than three colours, he subtly shone the spotlight backstage – onto the dark side: society, art… François Morellet, on the other hand, only had to tip the horizon line 5 degrees and the whole plateau tilts. These two works, taken alone, sum up the thematic intent of the exhibition; in fact they inspired it: to narrate the joys and eccentricities of our wonderful Modern world, to create an interlinked image of art and the world. The exhibition is in dialogue with Ralph Rogoff’s La vie moderne (Sucrière/macLYON/Confluences), which is the title of the 13th edition of the Lyon Biennale. 

Why are we showing selected works from the collection at this Biennale? For the simple reason that the Museum and the Biennale were founded only seven years apart (in 1984 and 1991 respectively) and they are the two faces of a single artistic project. In the past, the Biennale has exhibited many works from the collection: James Turrell, George Brecht, Robert Filliou, Sarkis, and James Coleman, for example, while, at the same time, the Museum has acquired a good number of works created for Biennales: works by Bill Viola, Cai Guo- Qiang, Nam June Paik, Carsten Höller, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ed Atkins, and David Douard, for example. Ce fabuleux monde moderne illustrates the structural link, the essential concordance between the macLYON and the Biennale, seen through Modern eyes. Since it was created, the macLYON has been innovative in its decision to collect entire exhibitions, created in close collaboration with the artists. Some huge works can take up as much as 1 000 m2 of floor space (works by Daniel Buren, Robert Morris, and Joseph Kosuth, amongst others). The Museum’s collection amounts to 1,300 pieces, which, if they were all exhibited, would occupy 30,000 m2. Every two years, the museum hosts the Biennale whose artistic director, since its creation, has been Thierry Raspail, also Director of the Museum. And every two years the macLYON also organises an exceptional monographic exhibition and devotes all its exhibition areas, as it does for the Biennale, to the work of one artist. In 2005, it was Andy Warhol; in 2008, Keith Haring; in 2010, Ben; in 2012, Robert Combas; in 2014, Erró; and coming shortly, Yoko Ono, in 2016. 

In 1984, when the museum first opened, a few simple rules were drawn up, which we have endeavoured to follow ever since:
– The Museum will compile a collection of personal exhibitions, that is to say a collection of moments more than a collection of objects.
– Each of these exhibitions is an artist’s response to a word they are given, which refers to a particular aspect of their oeuvre. For example Marina Abramović and Ulay were given the word “living”; Robert Morris was given “mind/body”; Kabakov “history”, etc.
– The collection is consequently a collection of moments, composed and imposed by the artist and not changeable after the event in curatorial experiments.
– The collection is an incomplete collection of “complete” or “generic” fragments which cannot be reduced to periods or styles in an
attempt to reconstitute them in a fictional art history (for example Arte Povera, performance, the 1990s or the 2000s).
– In art historical terms, the collection is consequently totally incoherent because it is not interested in movements or in geographical areas, but in particular works produced at a particular moment, and materialised once and for all within the framework of a personal exhibition for which the artist is the curator.
– For reasons of space and budget, a collection of exhibitions cannot be systematic.
For all these reasons, Ce fabuleux monde moderne presents works which, although they were for the most part acquired as the result of personal exhibitions, do not fall into the category of generic works and moments. They are, we might say, far more conventional works and correspond to academic, museographic principles. 

The Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon (macLYON), built in 1984 and designed by Renzo Piano, opened at the Cité Internationale in December 1995. There are 3000 square metres of exhibition space. It is the only museum in Europe with variable space, which makes it possible to totally redesign the museum trail and the spaces for every exhibition. As a result, the new works presented in each exhibition are displayed in a completely new interior in a very new kind of Museum. The macLYON presents the latest national and international contemporary art. The exhibitions that take place there, which are often designed in collaboration with European institutions, present Modernity in all its forms: painting of course (Marc Desgrandchamps, Marlène Mocquet, Keith Haring, Robert Combas…), video (Bill Viola, Bruce Nauman, Jan Fabre…), installations (e.g. Sophie Calle, Robert Morris, Antoine Catala), sound works (La Monte Young, Laurie Anderson, John Cage…) and choreography (Anna Halprin, Trisha Brown…).

Ce fabuleux monde moderne 19 photos

Ed Rusha, "The Back of Hollywood"

Ed Ruscha
The Back of Hollywood - 1977
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Thomas Ruff, "Portrait"

Thomas Ruff
Portrait - 1986
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Peter Robinson, "The Jacopetti Effect – Duck Rock Part 1"

Peter Robinson
The Jacopetti Effect – Duck Rock Part 1 - 2000
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Edourado Paolozzi, "Tim’s boot"

Eduardo Paolozzi
Tim’s boot - 1971
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Nam Junk Paik, "Vertical Roll TV"

Nam June Paik
Vertical Roll TV - 1963-1995
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Han neleman, "Reha Hake, Iwi : Ngai Tuhoe, Moko-Maori Tatoo"

Hans Neleman
Reha Hake, Iwi : Ngai Tuhoe, Moko-Maori Tatoo - 1999
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Marlène Moquet, "Caliméro"

Marlène Mocquet
Caliméro - 2009
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Le Gentil Garçon, "La fin des travaux : faire, défaire, refaire"

Le Gentil Garçon
La fin des travaux : faire, défaire, refaire - 2001
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Lucia Koch, "New Development ; New Development"

New Development ; New Development - 2011
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Roberto Jacoby, "Le fil rouge de l’histoire"

Le fil rouge de l’histoire - 2011
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Jean-François Gavoty, "L’Escargothique"

Jean- François Gavoty
L’Escargothique - 1990
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Henry Flint, Jean-Michel Basquiat, "The SAMO"

Henry Flynt, Jean-Michel Basquiat
The SAMO -
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Daniel Firman, "Rotomatic"

Rotomatic - 2011
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Etienne Bossut, "sans titre"

Étienne Bossut
Sans titre - 1985
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Laurie Anderson, "The Handphone Table"

Laurie Anderson
The Handphone Table - 1978
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Terry Allen, "Youth in Asia"

Terry Allen
Youth in Asia - 1983
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Marina Abramovic et Ulau, "AAA"

Marina Abramović and Ulay
AAA - 1978-1999
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Jesus Rafael Soto, "Pénétrable de Lyon"

Jesús-Rafael Soto
Pénétrable de Lyon - 1988
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | Le Plateau

Daniel Spoerri, "Restaurant"

Daniel Spoerri
Restaurant - 1968
Ce fabuleux monde moderne | IAC Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes