Currently presented at the Guggenheim Museum Soho in Downtown New York City is “Premises,” an extensive survey of French art, architecture, and design in the past forty years. The theme of this show “premises,” with its double meaning, is something that “has preoccupied many international artists since the beginning of the 1960’s,” as the curator of this exhibition claims. Some of the individual pieces are quite strong in their own right, and they are coordinated and presented effectively on all three floors of the museum. However, the exhibition as an entity seems a little too distant and elite.
As the title of the exhibition indicates, artists and architects in the show explore “the notion of site, space, territory, and location.” One of the first pieces in the museum is “Bar Seduire” by Jean-Luc Vilmouth, a bar-like installation with video monitors and beautiful illuminations. One sits at a table with a monitor on it, he/she sees listens to a person in the monitor. Different tables have different individuals, all somewhat eccentric, of different nationalities, speaking, explaining, contemplating, and in some cases, uncomfortably yelling rather randomly.
The exhibition is divided into two sections, visual arts and architecture, each then has five “chapters” of more focused themes within it, rather than timeframes of the past four decades. One of the more compelling pieces in the visual arts section is the one by Louise Bourgeois, one of the most celebrated female artists of the twentieth century, which takes up one whole room on the second floor of the museum. It is a large but long and narrow corridor-like cage with perpendicular extensions at certain intervals. In each extension is various, mysterious and otherworldly objects, such as glass spheres and stained bed, reminding the viewer of secluded and disturbed individuals who might have been locked up in there. This piece quietly yet extremely convincingly communicates the idea of “space and territory” and does so without words. It makes the visitor not only visualize but also sense this notion. The only but most important mistake of the display, as I saw it, was that you actually could NOT go into the cage; you had to imagine from outside the cage what it would be like to be inside.
Another cage-like piece (by whom I can’t recall) called “Zero Space” is something one can actually go in and walk through. It occupies an entire hallway, with both ends shielded with white metal bars. Two walls, floor and ceiling are seamlessly tiled with white, shinny tiles, much like the ones you might find in your own bathroom. In there, you might experience, as the title suggests, a space that doesn’t really exists, one that contains nothing but the space itself.
In the architecture section, the visitors are introduced to some of the most intriguing architectural works of the past decades, some of which I was never aware of their French origin. Architects like Jean Nouvel use space and light in a truly poetic way, creating a new generation of building that focuses on the emotional importance of design and architecture.
The entire exhibition is designed well, throughout which semi-translucent curtains divide sections. These curtains work also as projection screens, slides and video projected from the rear. The biggest disappointment of this exhibition, however, as in many others that I have attended in the past, is the academism behind the exhibition, which is evident throughout the museum and in the impressions that one is left with.