In 2010, Christian Boltanski spread piles of clothes reaching to fifty tons around the interior of Grand Palais. Three years before Boltanski, Anselm Kiefer brought in cement and metal along with dust and debris into this patriarchal symbol of French industrial awakening. Richard Serra, Daniel Buren and Anish Kapoor are among the other superstar artists who have marked their signatures in this historical building in response to France Ministry of Culture’s annual Monumenta project, which invites an artist to create a new body of work to be exhibited inside the impressive architecture of Grand Palais. On view through June 22nd is this year’s commission L’Ètrange Cité (Strange City) by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, arguably Russia’s most celebrated names in contemporary art.
Hidden inside a profoundly white maze covering the interior of the building, the Kabakovs present their utopian ideal, reflected to reality as a massive built-in city. Separated into five rooms, each telling different stories, the installation invites viewers to crawl around the walls of this enormous maze, discovering new worlds the duo proposes and presents. Titled How to Meet an Angel, Manas, The Gates, The Center of Cosmic Energy and The Empty Museum; each room reflects various statements and notions Kabakovs have been contemplating throughout their long career.
Ilya Kabakov and his wife Emila have been delivering an impressive body of work commenting on the Soviet identity and its reflections on contemporary culture from their Long Island studio for decades. Strongly tied to political and social dynamics of the eras in which they were executed, the Kabakovs’ works in various mediums have commonly asked for the participation of the public in different ways. The Ship of Siwa required the direct participation of local students in the city of Siwa, Egypt to build the said ship, whereas 1991’s Red Wagon had invited the viewers into an unidentified ramp connected with vaguely structured rooms in Germany.
Following a familiar approach in execution for their Grand Palais show, the couple focuses on similar themes, ruminating on the idea of an utopia and its possibility against all odds. Aiming to inspire visitors to work towards “a better world,” each room individually challenges the viewers to consider further readings and movements outside the works themselves. The Empty Museum, with its simplicity and commentary on the notion of exhibition design, suggests a bold, yet subtle setting to stand inside, while Manas, showcasing a Tibetan city symmetrically present on the floor and the ceiling, accents the spiritual aspect of the Kabakovs’ master plan. Visually the most narrative of the rooms, How to Meet an Angel, tells the story of mankind trying to reach to its angel by climbing on a ladder in a lyrical yet simple style.
Departing from the likes of Serra, Boltanski or Kiefer, who heavily and masterfully interacted with the grandiose architectural structure of the interior, Kabakovs orchestrate an introverted project guiding the viewers towards interior space, rather of conceptualizing their statement within the existence of the main building.
Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: L’Ètrange Cité (Strange City) is on view at Grand Palais through June 22, 2014.
Grand Palais [Exhibition Page]
“Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s installation for Monumenta” [FT]
On View | Enter ‘the Strange City’ of the Artists Kabakov [New York Times]
Ilya And Emilia Kabakov Present 2014 Installation For Monumenta Grand Palais Paris [Artlyst]