Friday 12 June 2015


A friend asked me recently where art is going? 

Philippe PARRENO has answered this question with his magnificent, monumental & adventurous operatic vision of collaborative music, film, light, sound sculpture plus live performance.  Titled H{N) Y P N (Y} OSIS, It’s more a promenade or spectacular, more experience than exhibition - just as Parreno wants! His aim for several years has been to redefine the ‘exhibition’, turn it on its head....

Born in France, Paris based, now 50, for the last 20 years Parreno has been involved with large scale spectaculars backed by a lot of French intellectulism. He has worked with Douglas Gordon in 2012; transformed the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Barbican in London & appeared at the Venice Biennale in 1993, 95, 2003, 07, 2009. 
Here he takes THE PARK AVENUE ARMORY, New York’s best open space (55,000 sq ft & very high) & transforms it into a veritable wonderland of over-head flashing lights, screens with digital patterns, 3 pianos, music live and recorded, plus 5 films of very different sorts. The lights come from 27 different sculptures, all made in France, (almost all sold,) all geometric in form - square, slab, triangle, diamond, rectangle upright or horizontal. 
These animated white light sculptures form an avenue inside the huge Armory Drill Hall. Sometimes they throb, or wink, or blaze, then turn off leaving you in darkness while a piano plays & a film rolls. Sometimes they make patterns on the floor. As they say, it's all very immersive - how I hate that word, but in this case, legitimate. 
It can all be surveyed from a    
circular rotating platform of bleachers at the far end of the hall and happily, sensibly there are lots of benches scattered around so you can sit, for Parreno tells me that contrary to the press release which says 2 hours, to see the whole event takes 5 or 6 hours!  

So I only saw 3 films and have not seen The Crowd, his new film of multiple realities, site specific & specially commissioned for the Armory. 

But as I left I went in search of the technicians & found them behind their computers & screens. "Are u the crew who make it all happen?" I asked. "No! No!" they said. "We are not technicians, We are MAGICIANS."  Right enough - they truely are. 
The computers that I found at the end of the  Armory Drill Hall will be up in the North Balcony for the duration of the exhibition. There are currently 8 computers which feed into one central computer, which controls different aspects of the installation (from the music, lighting, to the Drill Hall shades etc). Parreno's studio had 4 programmers who worked on the project through installation.  I am told when its all perfected, only one guy will stay to look after things. Parreno has a whole crew of magic men in Paris who assist in all his creative imaginings. 

In fact the down side of this extravaganza is that is it sporadic, spotty, scattered across the vast open space. Can a space be TOO big? Here the answer is yes. Despite 27 light sculptures (called Marquees) hanging from the roof, there are not enough. 
SOUND and MUSIC play a vital role in Parreno's work. Here world famous pianist Mikhail Rudy performs music ranging from Liszt, Stravinsky & Ravel to Morton Feldman. The sculptures make their own sound contributions, as do the films. The space is so enormous that 3 grand pianos almost get lost. 

Parreno talks a lot about collaboration, and here he is collaborating with the best. There is a long list of artists, curators, etc. He sees collaboration as key. Even the (very peculiar title H{N) Y P N (Y} OSIS, - ie Hypnosis,) was designed by his graphic team in Paris. So - the set design is by Randall Peacock, sound design by Nicolas Becker, assisted by Cengiz Hartlap; music direction by Nicolas Becker, known for his sonic compositions, & pianist Mikhail Rudy, dramaturgy by Tino Sehgal, Parreno & Asad Raza, 

The whole is co-curated by the famous Hans-Ulrich Oberist, director of London's Serpentine, Alex Poots, the Manchunian Armory's artistic director, and consulting curator, Scotland's own Tom Eccles who heads up Bard University's Hessel Museum & Curatorial Studies. All men u notice. 
Five films help pack out the space at the far end of the Hall with 4 screens, 3 big. Two films - one Marilyn from 2012, the other June 8 1968, from 2009, run on one screen.  
Marilyn conjures her up in a lavish suite at the NY'd Waldorf Astoria Hotel where she lived in the 1950s. Using her voice and as tho thro her eyes, she traverses the rooms, writes letters, talks to herself in dim shadowy surroundings as tho, says Parreno, "in a phantasmagorical seance."  
The other film is a gripping re-enactment of the train journey that transported Robert Kennedy's body from NY to Washington after his assassination in 1968. People stand in homage - or curiosity - along the tracks. It is strangely moving.

"It's a challenge to the viewer to comprehend the complexity of Parreno's orchestrated art extraveganza," said my husband. I think he's right - this time! 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, thank you for this very full accunt on a challenging artist working at the cutting edge today.