LE FIGARO. – Why is contemporary art does he scare so many people? Why it seems so incomprehensible, so abstract, so elitist?

Donatien GRAU . – French artist Pierre Huyghe said that later, the contemporary art would be considered as a style. The history of art has seen the birth of the schools, the art firefighter. There will be the style “contemporary art”. It is only a fragment of everything that is done today. What is interesting is that even the term “contemporary art” is more a term of control, as forty years ago when Daniel Buren was struggling in and against the institution. Now, it is part of it. The space control virtually no longer exists. All of the museums, or almost, call the contemporary art, it as a recipe for win visibility and public. It is a phenomenon of institutional that we also see in the region. Last year, the Museum Pierre de Luxembourg in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon (Gard) has invited the Frac (regional Fund of contemporary art) to exhibit near its treasure, The Coronation of the Virgin by Enguerrand Quarton, painted between 1453 and 1454 for the altar of the chapel of the Holy Trinity of the church of the chartreuse Notre-Dame-du-Val-de-Benediction. Art contemporary has become a category, the “new normal”? It is this concept of fear.

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The contemporary divides the public between adoration and rejection. The case of JR and his anamorphosis of the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum is just the latest example. A work destroyed in a few hours, it is the role of art?

I would distinguish between the”contemporary art” and artists. We can see that today there are artists who provoke reactions that are very strong, so much interest and excitement in destruction and violence. I would mention JR at the Louvre, Jeff Koons and his Bouquet tulip Anish Kapoor, Dirty Corner to Versailles, Paul McCarthy with Tree place Vendôme or Ilya Khrzhanovsky with Sad in the theaters of Chatelet and of the City. This fascination for the few leads to the crystallization in the public space. At the same time, those who say they hate contemporary art, may love David Hockney! But it is a fact, the”contemporary art” has come at a time of institutional need.

What is your personal relationship to art?

When I joined the Musée d’orsay two years ago, at the call of its president, Laurence des Cars, I insisted on the fact that I didn’t want of this fixation, or inherit from the rear-guard of a discussion old of fifty years. I don’t want to stick to this catch-all category, I embrace the purpose of all creations, literature, music, philosophy, etc, My personal relationship to contemporary art is for artists. All those on which I have written are friends. With the conceptual artist american Glenn Ligon’s work at the Museum of Orsay in the framework of the exhibition “The black model” (Parisians black, twelve neon lights of large size, highlight the name of models, performers, and writers, present in important works of French art of the Nineteenth and the beginning of the Twentieth century, editor’s NOTE) that I didn’t know, I had a true relationship of companionship. What is important, this is not the”contemporary art”, the works, the artists, the energy they can create.

It is also a language, a doxa that you have to practise to talk about it in a way that is accepted by this environment. This was always the case with art?

of course, there is a language, an environment, and therefore risk isolation. But this medium is also of extraordinary people who have given considerable thought, thought, looked, who have things to say. To exchange, to move forward with these people is a privilege, a chance. This is true for Laurence des Cars, who is a pioneer, as for Azzedine Alaïa, who knew how to transfigure everything he saw with a radicality, a judgment and a taste that are unmatched. Azzedine had accompanied the writer Pierre Guyotat to the triumph of her three prizes, the Médicis prize, the special Prize of the prix Fémina and the Prix de la langue française. He had worked “to put it in its place,” he said.

what is it that an artist brings to the common people?

I will answer with an anecdote. When the Orsay Museum was a guest (the artist and american filmmaker) Julian Schnabel to make “Orsay by Julian Schnabel,” which included his own works and those of the collections, his gesture the most radical was seen, without really being noted. Julian has hung the self-Portrait blue Van Gogh (1889) much lower than usually. We know well how the clashes are political. The work hung very high became the masterpiece to which one comes to pay homage, almost to the knees, as in prayer. Julian tied it so that the visitor has his eyes to match those of Van Gogh. It is a boldness proper to an artist. It refreshes the eyes on a masterpiece that no one sees even more, as it is overshadowed by its representations.

When I worked last year on “Plato in L. A.: Contemporary Artists’ Visions” for the reopening of the Villa Getty in Los Angeles, I was flabbergasted by the vision of the artists Paul Chan, Rachel Harrison, Huang Yong Ping, Mike Kelley, Jeff Koons, Joseph Kosuth, Paul McCarthy, Whitney McVeigh, Raymond Pettibon, Adrian Piper, Michelangelo Pistoletto. They are not professors of philosophy. They go to the center of a direct reading of the work. (Artist, california) Paul McCarthy who has made a series of magnificent drawings on The Banquet of Plato has pointed out to me: “They are all drunk!” The text confirms this. When one reads The Banquet, you can see them making a big speech about love, which are today our foundations of the theory of love. The question of truth is at the heart of Plato. This delusion of the guests, unmasked by the drawings of Paul McCarthy, is the truth of the philosophy of the western tradition. It is, therefore, of the freedom of the artists we need.

The art is also a consumer product, sometimes at expiry time is extremely short, as was the case for JR in the Louvre. How would you analyze this social phenomenon? Is this a drift of freedom?

I have not seen the project of JR, neither before nor after. The problem behind this, it seems to me it is the design of an art spectacular, and the multiplicity of platforms. Which is spectacular at a particular time does not create necessarily of multiplicity of approaches, of educational possibilities. How to overcome an image, even beautiful, and learn something from it? This is what seems to me to be injurious in this case. I think that today, the spectacular work that has a énorme cost is not the most interesting, finally, on a personal basis, I’m not interested. The real issue is the transmission. To transmit an image, this is not to pass on knowledge, experience passing, a reflection. Perhaps this is due to my history. I came to art through paths crossed, a little literature, a little history of art (he is a former student of the École normale supérieure, and a graduate of the Institute of political studies of Paris, professor of letters, doctor of university Paris-Sorbonne, editor’s NOTE), I was a specialist in roman coins!

What response do to the idolatry of the artists?

today, the religious experience has been replaced with that of art… This is a new experience of passing. The history of museums in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries the says: these are not temples in order to please a god, but as temples built by humanity to itself. Artists inherit from this in modern history and become, not new gods, but new heroes, new demiurge, the creator of world and résurrecteurs.

It contradicts a little when they reach the glory. Maybe that’s because the company, numb, or fearful, is less scope to the action and is shocked that someone acts?

there is a double question, on the status of the art and on the status of artists. Come into an art museum heritage is an experience of self-transcendence, as the church once in a world of wishful thinking. As pointed out to me the philosopher Catherine Malabou in visiting the Musée d’orsay, one is suddenly surrounded by the dead! The museum is the place where all the dead have another life. This space is therefore essential for one and all. The artists who are our contemporaries have this capacity to act directly on our eyes, on the way we think things. The great works have this extraordinary power, be it minimal, almost nothing, like David Hammons, or grandiose, like Glenn Ligon, these are experiences that change our lives.

When working with a living artist, everything is alive, precisely, is the question to go and return. I’ve always thought that giving constraints to be an artist was an extraordinary resource. It is not a question of being in a violent attitudes, they want to terrorize. It is necessary to establish a constructive dialogue. In the collective exhibition “Pierre Guyotat. The matter of our” works, at the Galerie Azzedine Alaïa in 2016, I told each artist reacting to one of his manuscripts – Miquel Barceló, Klaus Rinke, Jean-Luc Moulène, Christoph von Weyhe, Paul McCarthy, Buren, and many others – “You have a wall, you have to reinvent something in this constraint!”. The result was amazing. To the point that the designs of Pierre Guyotat has been exhibited in “The Violin of Ingres” with Chiara Parisi as statutory auditor, at the Villa Medici in Rome. The art of travel, our minds also.

Donatien Grau is responsible for programs in contemporary and adviser to the president
Museums of Orsay and the Orangerie, Laurence des Cars.

a Former student of the École normale supérieure, and a graduate of the Institute of Political Studies of Paris, professor of Letters, doctor of University Paris-Sorbonne. He co-directed with Bernard-Henri Lévy, the collection Figures. His important works are “All against Sainte-Beuve”, Grasset, 2013 (Prix François-Victor Noury of the Institut), “Nero in the West”, Gallimard, 2015.