Installation view, 2014, Palais de Tokyo, Paris PHOTO: André Morin. Courtesy of Palais de Tokyo
Installation view, 2014, Palais de Tokyo, Paris
PHOTO: André Morin. Courtesy of Palais de Tokyo


The mission of the Palais de Tokyo has always been to actively discover young international talent; the rumor goes that one former director was asked to leave after exhibiting too many established artists. This demand for fresh inter- national art is part of a strategy for French contemporary art institutions on the international stage. Coming under the auspices of the Paris municipal government, the Palais de Tokyo is mainly supported by public funding.

The Palais de Tokyo’s current program emphasizes curatorial internationalization. This fall, the organization opens the large-scale exhibition “Inside,” as well as the sat- ellite project “Inside China.” One of the curators selected is the Hong Kong-born artist and curator Jo-ey Tang. For this project, he has collaborated with K11 Art Foundation and Wang Chunchen, a curator from the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing. After much negotiation, the curators of “Inside Chi- na” decided to show works by five Chinese artists born in the 1980s, as well as three French artists. A video by Cheng Ran and Item Idem is projected on the exterior of the building; in the film, luxury brands and fashion icons are set on fire, evoking an enthusiasm for iconoclasm in keeping with the overall style of the Palais de Tokyo.

“Inside China” demonstrates that the younger genera- tion of Chinese artists do not rely on cultural symbols to dis- tinguish themselves. Some may lament the lack of apparent differences between works by Chinese and French artists, but, in reality, the internal experience alluded to in the ex- hibition title is embedded in the works themselves rather than in the identities of the artists. Li Gang processes the waste deposits of over 2000 car exhaust pipes into ink sticks. Edwin Lo spends three months on an oil tanker captained by his father in the Pearl River Delta, recording sounds on- board the ship. Wu Hao uses ordinary rolling shutters to display colors dulled by repeated use and weathered by the wind. Yu Ji, who has studied the classical sculpture of Chi- na, India, and Cambodia, uses plaster blocks of uniform siz- es to reconstruct experiences of time. Zhao Yao stitches to- gether materials such as leather, cotton, linen, and artificial fur to create abstract collages hanging on the wall, resulting in an aesthetic interpretation of social protest. The use of pioneering nineteenth-century French photographer and novelist Nadar’s aerial imagery to introduce “Inside China” hints at a desire to bring art into a new sensory realm; the exhibition provides an international platform for a young generation of Chinese artists and a fresh view of their lan- guage. He Qian (Translated by Vanessa Nolan)

Mike Nelson, Studio Apparatus for Palais de Tokyo ou The Exorcism, 2014 PHOTO: André Morin. Courtesy of Palais de Tokyo
Mike Nelson, Studio Apparatus for Palais de Tokyo ou The Exorcism, 2014
PHOTO: André Morin. Courtesy of Palais de Tokyo

A photograph of the inside of an aerostat taken by Nadar in 1863, rather spectacular in nature, lies at the epicenter of the exhibition “Inside China,” which groups six Chinese and two French contemporary artists together under an ambitious three-year collaboration between Palais de Tokyo and K11 Foundation. Curated by Jo-ey Tang and Wang Chunchen, the show features works by artists born in the 1980s. The Nadar image—a balloon being filled with hot air, which one imagines will take off and eventually disclose larger dimensions of vis- ibility—is used as a metaphor for the curatorial imaginary. It serves to underline an approach that, stated rather heroically, will “open up a yet undetermined space with acts of percep- tion before perception, with modes of being before being.” The resulting presentation is, according to the curators, very much about materiality and its supposed potential to illuminate as- pects of reality through the dynamics of sensorial absorption.

It is hard to see though how such quasi-empiricist sugges- tions play out in the exhibition. Edwin Lo’s piece Auditory Scenes: The Chronicle of Seascape (2008-14), based on autobiographically framed sounds recorded in the interior of an oil tanker that evolve compositionally over the three months of the show, is certainly a noteworthy take on the narrative potential of sound and its relationship to the reading of space and history, but it has a hard time detaching itself from background noise and does not fully succeed in becoming an intelligible experience. Perhaps the documentary aspect of the work, one of its most im- portant layers, gets lost simply because the piece is not entirely given due space, context, or conceptual anchoring.

This might, in fact, be a symptom of this show that never really takes off. While the decision to avoid scholarly or contex- tual information about the works is somewhat comprehensible, it is not exactly satisfying to base one’s approach on a general- ized aura of materiality. Without doubt, all of the artists in the show—and particularly Yu Ji, Zhao Yao, and Cheng Ran—de- serve a more fitting frame to convey their developing practices. Actually, this would have been a much better show if different takes on materiality had been less caged into objecthood—dis- tinct groupings—and allowed to intervene with the space in a more site-specific way. Lo’s work, for that matter, could have become a quite captivating experience if it had been permitted to fully envelop the modest exhibition area, thereby coming to the auditory forefront—even at the risk of conundrum.

The proper frame is guaranteed to the main exhibi- tion at Palais de Tokyo, entitled “Inside” and jointly curated by Jean de Loisy, Daria de Beauvais, and Katell Jaffrès. The works of more than 30 artists are here strung together as a labyrinthine, post-surrealist trajectory distributed over vari- ous levels of the building in a series of ambient chambers. Although there is a flash of déjà vu here and there, as if the simulacrum of postmodernism were trying to debauch other- wise largely existentialist undertones, the exhibition has lots to offer; little wonder, as it is something of an encyclopedic show, including established positions, accomplished mid-career art- ists, and a roster of younger talent. It works mostly because there are some exceptionally strong pieces that serve as the backbone of the venture, such as Bruce Nauman’s sound in- stallation Get Out of my Mind, Get Out of this Room (1968), with its eerily confrontational voice addressing the viewer in rather visceral ways; Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s video installation Conversations I-III (2005), in which the artist performs a vigil by the bodies of anonymous corpses; and Burn (2002) by Reynold Reynolds and Patrick Jolley, a video that allegorically enacts the apathy of the society of spectacle in the midst of a burn- ing domestic environment. Given the extent of “Inside,” the first, rather unobtrusive installment of “Inside China” could only lose out by comparison. On the other hand, there is now a three-year stretch for the curators to intensify and radicalize their approach to presenting new Chinese positions within the larger picture of contemporary art. Daniel Kurjakovic