By: Freya Routledge

Best known best for his black and white photos, Daido Moriyama is one of the leading photographers in Japan, his work focusing primarily on the country’s post-war experience of the breakdown of tradition and subsequent influx of modern values. The show, at the Cartier Foundation, exhibits a large portion of Moriyama’s work in colour, an element of his photography which has been largely unobserved throughout his career. The show ultimately strives to demonstrate what Moriyama describes as the “confusing interaction of people and things in the contemporary city” in both parts of the exhibition: Daido Tokyo – his colour work; and Dog and Mesh Tights – an audiovisual installation that presents his better known black and white works.

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015
Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Tokyo presents a body of work which demonstrates Moriyama’s apt eye for colour. His shots that are visually very “busy” (showing larger scale urban areas/ lots of colour/ multiple visual elements, objects and subjects) appear to work best; high focus resolutions with compelling colour contrasts such as a wide shot of a snowy Tokyo street with a large bright red vending machine at the centre of the image. The vending machine takes a strangely unnerving stance, its bright red colour and artificial look making it seem misplaced on the soft, snowy street. Both bleak and beautiful, the image captures a moment in modern Tokyo with a sad sense of nostalgia. What adds to this unnerving and slightly uncanny quality is that Moriyama doesn’t reveal any of his photographs’ contexts. For example, a shot of the bottom of a stairwell patterned with bright red leaves which clash with the purple wall, capture a dinginess which evokes the seediness that you might find in a brothel, a fact that is neither confirmed nor denied. In fact, there is no information next to each photograph: no title, subtitle, label or description; his work is inherently mysterious.

Unfortunately, the gallery does Moriyama a disservice by presenting his photographs in a jumbled formation that makes them difficult to focus on or follow; being arranged in 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s, edge to edge and without borders. Arguably this deliberately reinforces Moriyama’s idea of confusing interactions of the city – perhaps the presentation is a meta-visual tool that sees the works themselves inhabiting the confused landscapes of the artist’s photographs. Nonetheless, the photos are hard to look at, sometimes becoming distorted by their presentation.

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015
Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Photos that stand out from the jumble are portraits that provide an interesting insight into city life. The most dramatic of these features a blurred street at night-time as a backdrop with a woman’s face in the forefront, her eyes dark with kohl which is slightly running round her eyes. It’s hard to say whether her expression is unnerving or endearing but it’s thought-provoking and beautifully composed nonetheless, conjuring images of loneliness and vulnerability which are up against the great magnitude and darkness of the city. Another shot which is particularly absorbing shows a group of women moving through a market. Those in the background are out of focus, bringing the woman at the front to our attention who has a candidness in her expression that makes you wonder if she knew she was being photographed. This, along with the blurred movement in the photograph creates an image whose subjects are fleeting and mobile, evoking the fast-pace of an urban environment.

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Dog and Mesh Tights takes a different approach to its colour counterparts: an audiovisual piece installed in a dark room comprised of four 10 ft screens providing a slideshow of Moriyama’s vast body of black and white work. The audio adds an interesting extra element; often involving people talking in groups (in Japanese) and moving around busy public spaces as well as the clattering sounds of restaurants and communal eating. Moriyama knows that most of his French audience won’t understand the Japanese audio; this assumed unfamiliarity is another meta-artistic demonstration of Tokyo’s “confusing” urbanity.

Daido Moriyama, Dog and Mesh Tights Series, 20014-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Moriyama, Dog and Mesh Tights Series, 20014-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

In Dog and Mesh Tights, the photos on display suggest that the “confusion” Moriyama speaks of involves Tokyo being in a limbo state, uncomfortably wedged somewhere between the old and the new. Symbols of modern pop culture such as glittered lips on an airbrushed face or the iconically branded can of Coca Cola stand juxtaposed with banal images of human habit – a sellotape dispenser, toilet roll and paperclips. The clash between habit/ tradition and new/ contemporary are central ideas in both parts of the show and are, unsurprisingly, left unresolved as if to say that Japan is still attempting to forge its post-war identity. Whilst Moriyama explores these ideas with thoughtful detail, it is a shame that the gallery itself couldn’t have dealt with the presentation a little more thoughtfully. This ultimately left me with a sense of incompletion – a feeling that the show lacked the coherence that Moriyama’s work really deserves.

Daido Moriyama, Daido Tokyo is on view at The Cartier Foundation, Paris through June 5, 2016

The second installment (see the first one here) of our top contemporary art galleries in London looks at the younger contingent of the spaces that now exist in the city; fresh, dynamic and often left-field channels which keep the arts scene buzzing with new ideas.

  1. White Cube Galleries

In a nutshell: Charles Saatchi may have attacked the White Cube’s namesake white-walled galleries in 2003, saying that they are “antiseptic” and “worryingly” old-fashioned but that did not stop the franchise making its way to the top of London’s contemporary art scene. The White Cube galleries may have even profited from Saatchi’s public diatribe, choosing to stick proudly to their white walls and continue their work, irrespective of his views. With its roots in East London, the first White Cube gallery in Mason’s Yard, associated with the neighbouring Young British Artists, and came to prominence when it gave YBA Tracey Emin one of her first shows. The gallery has, however, somewhat departed from its East-End/YBA origins, accepting the wave of gentrification that has flooded the area. A climactic moment in the franchise’s transformation was the graffitiing of “Yuppies Out” and “Class War” on the Bermondsey branch by anti-gentrification activists, this being the very space that is now one of Europe’s biggest commercial galleries. However, if you can forgive and forget, or don’t care, then the White Cube will provide you with a compelling contemporary program ranging a multitude of disciplines.

Where: Mason’s Yard SW1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday //Bermondsey Street, SE1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday with late opening at 12pm on Sunday. Closed Monday.

  1. Blain|Southernblain-southern-hanover-square

In a nutshell: Established in 2010, the gallery’s founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern regularly feature in ArtReview’s top 100 most important people in the contemporary art world. And this is no empty accolade; before launching Blain|Southern, the duo were at the helm of London’s Haunch of Venison gallery which was sold to Christie’s in 2007. Their time at Haunch of Venison allowed them to build up an impressive artists network which, by the time of its initiation, gave Blain|Southern a critical edge, associating with names such as Richard Long and Keith Tyson to name a few. While the gallery is only 6 years old, it has already hosted many acclaimed exhibitions such as the much touted survey of Lucian Freud’s drawings in 2012 – Drawings. And with its setting in Hanover Square being a stones throw from New Bond Street, a.k.a. auction superhighway, the location is a veritable arts hub.

Where: Hanover Square, W1S. Open 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday except early closing at 5pm on Saturday. Closed Sunday.

  1. Victoria Miro
    Victoria_Miro

In a nutshell: Victoria Miro, unofficially crowned one of the “grande dames of the Britart scene” can even boast that she had famous babysitters – Sam Taylor-Wood having done her the honour in Miro’s child-rearing years that “stunted her creativity”. Fast-forward a few years and a few galleries later, and her eponymous franchise has two locations in London as well as others worldwide, representing major contemporary artists such as Chris Ofili and Grayson Perry. In opposition (albeit unintentional) with one of its locations in the exclusive Mayfair area, the gallery’s Wharf Road space was set up in 2000 in Islington, and, like the Whitechapel and White Cube, it’s close proximity to Hoxton quickly linked it with London’s cutting-edge experimental arts scene. The 8,000 sq.ft. space is housed in a beautifully restored ex-furniture factory and has its own garden located next to Regent’s Canal at Wenlock Basin. The spacious and natural(ish) location often lends itself to exhibitions such as Maria Nepomuceno’s The Force (2011), so expect a nice departure from the concrete jungle.

Where: Mayfair, W1 // Wharf Road N1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

  1. Hauser & Wirth
    hauser and wirth

In a nutshell: Like Blain and Southern, Iwan and Manuela Wirth (two thirds of the gallery’s founding body) have been ranked in the top most influential people in the contemporary art world by ArtReview. The other third of the gallery’s foundation is Ursula Hauser who, together with the Wirth’s, set up their first gallery in Switzerland in 1992 and has since grown into an acclaimed global art franchise. The gallery’s London location has moved around a lot since its inauguration in 2003, from Piccadilly to Cheshire Street in the East End, to Swallow Street, Old Bond Street and finally, Savile Row. The gallery’s punch probably comes from its balanced representation of over fifty emerging artists and industry heavyweights like Louise Bourgeois and Martin Creed. It also gains its reputation from its publishing offshoot, having published over 100 titles since 1992 specialising in modern and contemporary art, such as Phyllida Barlow’s Fifty Years of Drawings (2014). The gallery’s worldwide locations include a fabulous rural setting on a Somerset farm in the West of England.

Where: Savile Row, W1. Open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

  1. Unit London
    unit_london

In a nutshell: “WE EXIST FOR U”/ “THE WORLD’S FINEST” shouts the Unit London’s website. This might give you an idea of the gallery’s mission: to show dynamic and forward-thinking artists who are chosen for just those reasons, irrespective of of “reputation, culture or background”. The gallery is run by two young English guys – Johnny Burt and Joe Kennedy – who see social media as a as a “commercial tool”. In fact, their show Paintguide was Instagram-curated and certainly the first of its kind. Now, after 3 years of running Unit, they have buyers all over the world, showing the efficiency of this contemporary marketing method. They represent a roster of British and international artists including the likes of Paul Rousso and Cecile Plaisance. Their all-inclusive outlook could perhaps benefit from a larger female contingent, but the work on display is frequently changing and updating, a process you can follow via their Instagram.

Read our interview with Unit London founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt here.

Where: Soho, W1. Open everyday 11am-7pm.

It’s basically impossible to narrow London’s top modern and contemporary galleries down to 10. With the wealth and vibrancy of the arts scene in the British capital, there are too many to mention. Indeed, London has long been a global powerhouse in the modern and contemporary art world, so much so that this list simply sums up the starting points, merely scratching the surface of the city’s endless offerings.

We’ve created two lists examining galleries in London. This first one will guide you through London’s classic and long-established names such as the Tate and Serpentine, whilst the second will focus on London’s more recent additions to the modern and contemporary scene like Blain|Southern and Victoria Miro.

1. Tate Modern

In a nutshell: The Tate is one of the most famous art institutions in the world and, undoubtedly, a force to be reckoned with. Its neat “family” of four British galleries show its dedication to demonstrating the scope of the arts – old and new – and has thus become a household name across the globe. The Tate Modern is arguably its most impressive offering. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, the building was repurposed into a gallery by architects Herzog & de Meuron who decided to reinvent the structure rather than demolish it. Now, with its chimney intact, the Tate’s commanding physical presence on the bank is symbolic of its prevalence in global culture. Its brilliant permanent collection includes world-class works such as David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967) and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). The Tate Modern is known for exhibitions that spectacularly transform its interior such as Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (2007) which took the form of a long crack in the floor of the gallery’s Turbine Hall. Don’t miss the Thames-view café and the superb bookshop.

Where: Bankside, SE1. Open 10am-6pm everyday with late closing at 10pm on Friday and Saturday.

2. Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

In a nutshell: Cited by the Independent as “the place to promote a new belief in the good of art”, Whitechapel Gallery was actually one of the first publicly funded galleries in London, and its history is one of education and outreach. What’s more, it organises exhibitions according to local interest. This loyalty to locale make it uniquely personal when considering its international renown. With a penchant for catching up-and-coming artists and catapulting them to recognition, the Whitechapel has premiered the likes of Frida Kahlo and Mark Rothko. It even brands its history as one “of firsts”, having also been the only British gallery to exhibit Picasso’s Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and the first one in the country to produce a major survey of Jackson Pollock’s work. So, you might see the next big thing, perhaps the polar opposite…or something completely unexpected. Such is the Whitechapel, and it is not to be missed.

Where: Tower Hamlets, E1. Open 11am-9pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

3. Saatchi 

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

In a nutshell: As the urban legend goes, major British art patron Charles Saatchi apparently accidentally destroyed one of Marc Quinn’s legendary Self sculptures – consisting of the artist’s head cast and frozen in his own blood – when the freezer in his house was unplugged during construction works. Saatchi’s reputation precedes him, his name being one so powerful that an attempt to rename the gallery the Museum of Contemporary Art for London in 2010 completely flopped, ‘Saatchi’ enduring as before. Anyway, you must be doing something right if you’ve got a  in your freezer and Saatchi’s art empire is no weak feat; he opened a gallery in order to showcase his personal collection. The gallery boasts its temporary exhibits nearly always being by artists that no-one has heard of, providing a “springboard” to launch careers.  In a similar vein, the Saatchi is currently showing the rare effort of an all-female exhibit – Champagne Life.

Where: King’s Road, SW3. Open 10am-6pm everyday.

4. Gagosian Galleries

Gagosian

In a nutshell: Larry Gagosian’s art empire spans continents and, unsurprisingly, holds a firm base in London with no less than three galleries in the capital. While the galleries roots are in New York and Los Angeles, London was the first international location that was opened by Gagosian. Although that gallery on Haddon Street is now closed, three more have risen from the ashes including one on Britannia Street which started in 2004 with an exceptional opening exhibit of paintings and sculpture from Cy Twombly. Gagosian’s empire is publicly active and always expanding; in Sothebys’ recent Contemporary Sale, the gallery purchased Yves Klein’s Untitled, Anthropometry (1960) for a cool £1,025,000.  Expect a constantly evolving program of contemporary art in sensitively curated interiors from all three galleries which are all located within reasonable distance of each other. And, of course, all three galleries are commercial, so all the art is for sale…

Where: Britannia Street, WC1 // Davies Street, W1 // Grosvenor Hill, W1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

5. The Hayward

Hayward

The Hayward Gallery facade, London, the Uk

In a nutshell: Located on London’s vibrant South Bank (as part of the SouthBank Centre) amongst many other major arts centres, the Hayward’s Brutalist concrete exterior looks like it popped straight out of one of Orwell’s dystopian narratives. The Hayward doesn’t house a permanent collection, however, it hosts three or four major exhibitions each year; one of its many iconic shows having been Martin Creed’s What’s The Point of It? (20140 and Carsten Höller’s Decision (2015). Whilst its output is largely contemporary, the Hayward brands itself as embracing visual arts from all periods and has, in the past, shown work from Leonardo DaVinci and Edvard Munch. The gallery is well-known for doing ‘survey’ shows of contemporary art, including How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art from the Art’s Council Collection. The SouthBank centre location sees it sharing a setting with some of London’s other cultural epicentres, such as the Queen Elizabeth Concert Hall, and these make the area the arts hub that it is. As if that weren’t enough, it is adjacent to the Thames and on top of the famous (and luckily still-standing) Undercroft Skatepark so you shouldn’t be stuck for things to do once you finish in the gallery.

Where: Southbank Centre, SE1. The gallery re-opens in 2017. 

6. Serpentine Galleries

Serpentine_Gallery

Serpentine Gallery facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: With two galleries that are within walking distance of each other in the coveted Kensington Gardens of Hyde Park, the Serpentine Galleries are an extremely popular tourist destination. Named after the Serpentine Lake which separates the galleries, you have to cross a bridge to get from one to another if the romance weren’t already enough. They both showcase diverse contemporary art programs, and each space is housed in Grade II listed 19th and 20th century buildings: the original Serpentine in a former tea pavilion (it doesn’t get any more English) and the Serpentine Sackler in an ex-gunpowder store. Every summer the Serpentine commissions a leading architect to design and erect a temporary summer pavilion to be built on its lawn. Each building stays up for three months and, in previous years, has been designed by Pritzker Prize-winning names such as Jean Nouvel – famous for designing numerous iconic galleries worldwide – and Zaha Hadid to name a few.  

Where: Serpentine, Kensington Gardens, W2 // Serpentine Sackler, West Carriage Drive, W2.  Both galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

7. ICA

ICA

Institute of Contemporary Art facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: The Institute of Contemporary Arts is a cultural centre that houses galleries, cinemas, a theatre, a bookshop and a bar. And, located just off Trafalgar Square, it is as geographically central to London as it is to the city’s arts scene. It is a membership institute that promotes and encourages an understanding of radical contemporary art, initiated in 1947 by Londoners in an attempt to endorse an approach that went beyond the traditionalism of the Royal Academy. In the ’70’s the ICA was known for its anarchism, this period is marked by an attack on the director of exhibitions at the time – Norman Rosenthal. In a demonstration of their alternative spirit the ICA decided to keep Rosenthal’s bloodstain and it remains at the institute today, framed and preserved under glass and affectionately signposted ‘This is Norman’s Blood’. Historically, The Independent Group began meeting at the ICA in 1953 which ultimately lead to the launch of British Pop Art. The ICA’s association with events such as this, combined with its history of anarchy (and nonchalance) have made it one of the more exciting, forward-thinking institutions in London today.

Where: Pall Mall, SW1. Open 11am-11pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

The art scene in Paris has long been recognised, first and foremost, as the birthplace of Impressionism with the likes of Manet, Monet and Degas bringing it to global prominence. Today, however, Paris’ modern and contemporary offerings are a strong and exciting force driving its reputation beyond the die-hard, 19th century roots.  From cutting-edge industrial architecture in the Gagosian Le Bourget, to digital innovation at La Gaîté Lyrique, we rounded up the 10 best modern and contemporary galleries to give you an insight into the city’s burgeoning arts scene. 

1. Palais de Tokyo

In a nutshell: The rugged concrete interior may appear to be a meditated aesthetic decision but was actually due to the the gallery’s lack of money in the middle of renovation which led to organisers leaving it in its stripped-down state. Situated across from the Musée d’Art Moderne, the enormous Palais de Tokyo space houses some of the most cutting-edge, contemporary art in Europe including mind-blowing installations, films, and performances that are always exciting and immersive. Don’t miss the excellent bookshop and The Toyko Eat, the gallery’s restaurant.

Where: 16th arrondissement. Open 12pm-12am every day except Tuesday.

2. Centre Georges Pompidou

centre_pompidou

In a nutshell: The base level for any contemporary art-goer in Paris is the Centre Georges Pompidou, its name pays homage to its creator – the French president – who commissioned the building in 1969 as a completely new, multidisciplinary cultural centre. It’s architecture is an extraordinary mélange of multicoloured pipes forming a structure that juts out from the traditional French buildings of the 4th arrondissement. With its exhaustive permanent collections of modern and contemporary art spanning over 100,000 works including Pollock, Kandinsky and Man Ray, the Pompidou is, unsurprisingly, one of the most visited museums in France. Don’t miss the panoramic view from the top floor and the gallery’s library.

Where: 4th arrondissement. Open 11am-10pm everyday except Tuesday.

3. La Gaîté Lyrique

la_gaite_lyrique

In a nutshell: Like the Palais de Tokyo, La Gaîté Lyrique is hyper-contemporary. It focuses on the digital arts, complete with a video game station, interactive library and café, as well as exhibitions in the basement. The institution embraces all forms of contemporary digital expression from cinema, web design, and visual arts to electronic music. You’ll find many students in the café, teens playing the video games and plenty of families who take advantage of the kids afternoons the gallery holds during its exhibitions. 

Where: 3rd arrondissement. Open 2pm-8pm Tuesday-Saturday and 12pm-6pm Sundays. Closed Monday.

4. Musée d’Art Moderne

musee_moderne

In a nutshell: Located in the East-Wing of the Palais de Toyko, the Musée d’Art Moderne has been running since 1968 with over 10,000 modern and contemporary works from both European and global artists as well as several temporary exhibitions each year. The gallery was briefly closed in 2010 after a theft of over €100,000 worth of masterpieces, including works by Matisse and Modigliani. Even with its compelling heist history, the gallery is not as well-known as its name suggests, but is still worth a visit for its excellent permanent collection.

Where: 16th arrondissement. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday except Thursday with a late opening until 10pm. Closed Monday.

5. Jeu de Paume

jeu_de_paume

In a nutshell: Situated on the edge of Paris’ Place de Concorde in the famous Tuileries Garden, the Jeu de Paume is a beautiful 19th century building that once served as a tennis court, (hence the gallery’s title – ‘Jeu de Paume’ is French for racquet), as well as a sorting house for Nazi loot during WWII. The work on display, however, often goes above and beyond the building’s history with a focus on exhibiting post-war mechanical/electronic art – predominantly photography but also includes cinema, video installation, web art and more. Its major exhibitions, such as the current showcase of Philippe Halsman’s famous celebrity portraits have made it a popular destination for the city’s art-goers.

Where: 8th arrondissement. Open 11am-9pm Tuesday and 11am-7pm Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

6. Maison Européenne de la Photographie

maison_de_la_photographie

In a nutshell: Housed in an ex-hotel in Paris’ historic 4th quarter Le Marais, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is an institution dedicated to showcasing contemporary photography with a collection of over 20,000 works as well as rotating exhibitions which show anything from portraiture to optical illusions. Each rotation gives a broad vision of photography today, recently showing a major exhibition documenting a season at French fashion house Lanvin, as well as the remarkably composed architectural photographs of Caio Reisewitz. As well as these spaces, the gallery houses an auditorium, library, and video viewing facility and runs workshops and events throughout the year.

Where: 4th arrondissement. Open 10am-8pm Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

7. Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain

foundation_cartier

In a nutshell: Describing itself as having an “original approach to corporate philanthropy”, the Cartier Foundation commits itself to raising public awareness for contemporary art by exhibiting established artists as well as offering younger ones a chance to debut. Housed in a glass building designed by Pritzker Prize architect Jean Nouvel, it sits in a tranquil woodland garden, landscaped by Lothar Baumgarten making it a worthwhile place to visit for reasons beyond just the art. As well as organising multiple exhibitions, the foundation has created ‘Nomadic Nights’, an event focusing on the linkage between different kinds of contemporary expression via the performing arts.

Where: 14th arrondissement. Open 11am-8pm Wednesday-Saturday and 11am-10pm on Tuesdays. Closed Monday.

8/9. Gagosian Galleries

gagosian_gallery

In a nutshell: Major player in the contemporary art world, Larry Gagosian has fifteen galleries worldwide including two in Paris; one in the north-eastern suburb Le Bourget and another in the 8th arrondissement. The former is in an industrial park of Le Bourget, its location enabling the gallery’s spacious interior which, like Paris’ Cartier Foundation, was designed by Jean Nouvel. Indeed, the building is an extraordinary work in itself, combining the rugged industrial original with a smart contemporary finish. The latter is a smaller space than its suburban counterpart but is exceptional nonetheless, set in a Parisian mansion just off the Champs-Élysées. Expect a vibrant contemporary art program featuring leading international artists. 

Where:  8th arrondissement. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday // 93350 Le Bourget. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday.

10. MAC/VAL 

mac:val

In a nutshell: Paris’ size to population ratio has always been pretty tight and is one of the reasons why many large public spaces lie just outside the Périphérique dual-carriageway that defines the city limits. One of the many exciting contemporary art centres in the suburbs is Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, a.k.a. MAC/VAL. Situated in the south-eastern suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine in a sprawling contemporary building, MAC/VAL boasts being the first museum completely dedicated to the French ’50’s art scene. Having now expanded its collection to house everything from the ’50’s to contemporary art, the gallery also enjoys exhibiting both experienced and up-and-coming artists.

Where: 94400 Vitry-sur-Seine. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Friday and 12pm-7pm on Weekends and holidays. Closed on Mondays.

“There are thousands of ways to approach music,” we are told as we venture into the basement of La Gaîté Lyrique, towards the extraordinary augmented and electronic noise of Paris Musique Club. This is an audiovisual exhibition that dismantles and rebuilds the traditional idea of just listening to music. The notion of ‘approaches’ to music immediately implies the potentially varying experiences we can have as listeners, suggesting that there is more than just listening involved. Parisian label Scale, who were given carte blanche to produce the exhibition, make a sonic-visual collision the focal point of the show. The exhibition gains a lot from it’s surprising smallness in both number of works (6) and spatial scope, giving each intricate piece the space to explore ideas of listening, viewing and performing.

Paris_club_2

First, 1020s: a fusion of classical music – Ravel’s ’Bolero’ – with contemporary, CGI visuals projected onto a large structure resembling in equal parts an iceberg and an orchestral pit (a nice shout out to ‘Bolero’s’ roots if intentional). The experience is enticingly immersive, requiring spectators to put on headphones which block out about 80% of the outside noise and lets you just float along. What you see on the iceberg are light projections in various structures, colours and patterns, these being the visual counterparts of ‘Bolero’ that have been meticulously translated by numeric formula. ‘Bolero’ is therefore rejigged as 1020s retains the original music but presents an alternative way of experiencing the score through the audiovisual. The new dimension that is added to the classical in 1020s renders you both the traditional ‘listener’ and, newly, the ‘viewer’. Note, if you are one of those people who thinks classical music is boring, then this might change your mind.

Paris_club_3

Résistance and Playground together extend the roles of ‘listener’ and ‘viewer’ to include ‘performer’. Résistance, a self-playing piano which allows you to tweak its pre-installed melodies, also permits you to play it normally with the addition of an enormous network of tubes illuminated with various colours depending on the note. Watching people play is fascinating, looking back and forth between tubes and piano as if cracking a code. Even an adept pianist finds himself flummoxed by the connection between the notes and their colour responses. The new dimension that is given to this traditional instrument is clearly difficult to navigate as the seasoned player stumbles over his fingers, unable to immediately find the biting point between his roles as ‘listener’, ‘viewer’ and ‘performer’.  This performative element is important as it helps you play an active role in your understanding of Scale’s multi-dimensional musical space, suggesting that it is equally as important as listening and viewing. Indeed, Scale’s decision to stress the importance 0f performance in an approach to music as a listener provides you with a fresh understanding of sounds as you are producing. What’s more, you are struck by the sense of music’s universality: no-one really knows how to play it and so no-one is too self-conscious to try it out. 

Paris_club_4

In a similar way, Playground lets you play an enormous (36) set of drums by stepping on any combination of 16 pads, each corresponding with the self-playing drums which also feature a visual element in trippy abstract graphics that are projected onto the skins. Whether you are a kid storming gung-ho onto the mats or an adult with a slightly more methodical approach, everyone is trying to get their head around how to engage with this ‘uncanny drum kit’ that they only at least partially understand. And what is so brilliant about it is that gung-ho or methodical, either approach is totally acceptable, living up to its namesake Playground.

What is so appealing about this show is the almost unhindered allowance of interaction with the works. At only one point does an invigilator make a somewhat perfunctory intervention to encourage some kids not to jump “too hard”. This free reign provides an atmosphere that lets you approach the installations as you wish, guiding you to the ultimate revelation that the ideas of viewing and performing are just as important as listening. This contemporary concept of music references the prominence of electronically produced sounds in composition today, an approach governed by interdisciplinary approaches spanning computing, maths and visual arts to name a few. And with its crossing of both disciplines and listener roles, Paris Musique Club ultimately achieves the expression of music’s contemporary universality. We discover that we are truly an integral part of the music, both in the show and beyond.

Paris Musique Club is running at La Gaîté Lyrique until 31st January 2016. More information here.

The saying that “less is more” has become a household phrase; you probably hear it many times around Christmas as your senior family members attempt to force you into a practice of festive humility. And it relates to us more than ever today, especially as the COP21 summit in Paris last week saw global political leaders meet to discuss the future of our planet. It’s just a stone cold fact that we consume way too much and that this is running the world’s resources dry. From the seasonal rewriting of what’s fashionable to the mass production of cheap, useless, plastic crap which begs you to replace it within one week, our planet is becoming cluttered and requires us to go back to basics if we want to preserve anything we’ve built thus far.

With Black Friday now behind us and Christmas beginning to pump out its festive cheer to a choking point, you really get to thinking about stuff. And on the other side of a full-length anti-consumerism diatribe that need not reveal itself here, comes the revelation that wanting some stuff isn’t bad at all. And that is where Korea Now! Craft, Design, Fashion and Graphic Design in Korea at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, comes in. The entire show makes a strong case for thoughtful craftsmanship as a superior alternative to mass production, its high-quality design and minimal aesthetic presenting a lifestyle where less really is more.

The idea of the term ‘function’ and how it relates to an object is interestingly presented. The overarching sense is that the exhibition’s artists are actually “redefining the idea of function” to not only encompass practicality and form but also culture. How can an object [emulate] but also provide for a certain cultural demographic? For example, a room that is given over to exhibiting the collection of wares that make up the country’s tea ritual is equally about design and Korean cultural tradition. Not only are we presented with the table and crockery but are also informed of the ceremony’s cultural heritage which is intact within the objects themselves. Whilst the cultural history of this rite is broad and complex – spanning regions, religion and specificities of design among many things – the objects themselves remain simple, retaining a sense of ancient tradition in their slick contemporary form. Yong-Il Jong’s teapots are notably fine; exquisite pieces of glistening, snow-white ceramic that capture the “serenity” of this daily tea ritual.

Clearly the emphasis for artists like Yong-Il Jon is contemporary simplicity combined with tradition. And it does seem that for this uncluttered aesthetic, the idea and story of the objects involved are as important as their tangible counterparts. Dae-Sup Kwon’s awesome rendering of Korea’s famous design export the ‘Moon Jar’ is a perfect example of this collision of culture and form; the ceramic’s spherical smoothness and milky shade embodying a satisfying homage to its centuries of importance rooted in the Joseon Dynasty.

The labour that is involved in creating these objects is pretty breathtaking. Dae-Sup Kwon is said to make just four to six Moon Jars per year, the long firing time and high kiln heat making them “exceptionally difficult to produce”. In textiles, Seulgi Lee’s creation of his extraordinary quilt, titled Ètre écrasé par une paire de ciseaux = faire un cauchemar, has been a process spanning decades and Hyo-Joong Kim’s textile piece uses the technique of kknekki which allows pieces of cloth to be sewn together without leaving any visible stitching. And despite all of this, these artists continue to produce their wares, unhindered by the mammoth processes that are required. The expression ‘lovingly hand-made’ merely scratches the surface of the efforts of these craftsmen.

In a short film that explores the working lives of some of the artists through interviews, we are encouraged by them to embrace the viewpoint that a better quality of craftsmanship leaves you with a better quality of life. And it’s pretty convincing. The key element is that less is more, from the colour palettes to the smooth lines, to the number of objects considered in a ‘collection’. Their wares act as a symbol of ancient techniques while embodying Korea’s cultural history, giving their contemporaneity a sense of timelessness. Reflecting on our excessive consumer habits, I can’t help but think that a little re-hash of these patterns to suit the Korean sense of minimalism might take us a long way. Indeed, if the artists’ words ring true then we could be more happy by striving to own fewer, more beautiful, high-quality, and thoughtfully crafted objects. The bonus is that we give the planet’s resources a break. After all, it would be rather unromantic if our ultimate earthly demise was caused by one demand too many from a homewares bargain bucket.

Korea Now! is showing at the Musée des Arts décoratifs until 3rd January 2016. Entry free for EU residents under 26. More information here.

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