Art lovers should expect the unexpected in the latest offering of the ground-breaking and normally roof-scraping Monumenta exhibit, as artist Daniel Buren brings the Grand Palais’ lofty ceiling for the first time — literally — down to earth.
Monumenta, the hugely mediatized annual art project that’s in its fifth year dares an artist of international stature to “move into’’ the nave of one of the French capital’s most monumental buildings, and own it.
With a space measuring 13,500m2 and 45m high, it’s a dizzying feat for any artist, but especially for Buren.
The man, a national treasure in France, is a minimalist artist.
In a testament to the show’s importance, French President-elect Francois Hollande dropped in Wednesday last week — a day before the opening to the public — for his first cultural event since winning Sunday’s election.
Last year’s leviathan-shaped gargantua by British artist Anish Kapoor is a hard act to follow, scraping the nave’s ceiling, and attracting more than 270,000 people in six and a half weeks.
But as ever, Buren, who won 2007’s Praemium Imperiale award, akin to the Nobel Prize for art, thinks outside the box.
Buren’s attempt sees myriad translucent circles in red, blue, green and yellow installed horizontally like a second human-scale roof, 2.5m high, supported by his signature 8cm bars, striped in black and white.
The central part directly underneath the nave is empty, save for nine circular mirrors on the floor, shining up.
At first look, it seems as if Buren has failed his Monumenta homework — to fill the space.
But think again: what’s the medium that fills not only the Grand Palais, but every interior ever seen? In a word: light.
“The spirit of this place is sun, is light, which cuts through the color in the circles ... You need to feel for the space you’re in ... The Grand Palais with the glass ceiling has such beautiful light, all the time — even on a rainy day,’’ Buren said.
Visitors were seen exploring furtively under the rainbow-dappled disks that stand uniformly at 2.5m high across the expanse, some in awe and others in confusion.
There was a gasp as the morning’s first ray of sunlight shone through the building’s roof.
“Wow. That’s the moment I only understood it, when the sunlight came through the ceiling and hit the disks and shone of the floor: that’s the beautiful part with colors everywhere, when everything came together perfectly,’’ said Nina Aelbers, 27.
Others could only describe their reaction to the work in metaphor: one viewer at a loss for words, Roberta Prevost, called the second roof a “shimmering rug or multicolored tapestry.’’
Art critic Joost de Geest summed it up best: “Buren’s art is never immediately accessible, visible. You need to stroll around to feel it. The colored circles are very light, joyous, agreeable, but you need to discover them first. Imagine this — you can walk comfortably around the Grand Palais for the first time! I like that it’s on a small scale.’’
The small size was intentional.
“I’ve often worked in very different projects, different sizes. Some are empty, some are full, some are deconstructed. Here, again, the fundamental heart of the work was to make the work accessible and personal ... I made the ceiling this low, so it would be just about the height of a person, human size. It’s to re-appropriate the building for everyone,’’ Buren said.