Jacob Charles Wilson explores the complicated and confusing world we live in through a new exhibition in Paris
What does it mean to be au diapason du monde – in tune with the world – when the world seems to be fragmenting? It’s a pressing issue, as the merging of culture and nature, of humans and machines, shows that concepts once thought to be separate and immutable are actually malleable and change with the times. Au Diapason du Monde at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris speculates on the fundamental questions of existence: the place of humanity in the universe, the innumerable connections between ourselves and the living world, the fate of our planet, and our species – art is, after all, enduring.
This exhibition follows shows dedicated to the art of Africa and China and reiterates the Foundation’s aim to introduce modern and contemporary artists from across the globe to an international audience. They are well-placed to do so, having spent the past decade building their collection, with many of the artists also having worked on collaborations with the clothing brand. This current show draws together 29 contemporary artists alongside some of the greatest names of the 20th century, deftly woven throughout the four floors of the disorientating Frank Gehry-designed building in the Bois de Boulogne.
Starting at the lowest level of the gallery, the body is shown in all its forms. The beautiful thin wiry bronze figure of Alberto Giacometti’s The Man Who Capsizes lends its name to the title of this section of the exhibition. This figure is caught, frozen, as he falls to his knees, his uneven arms suggesting he can barely balance his own body. Overlooking this is the work of another modern master; Yves Klein’s Anthropometrie sans titre (ANT 104) is a huge canvas, painted with an almost symmetrical design, made by writhing bodies of his nude models dipped in his signature International Klein Blue pigment.
But does the body have a future? The responses by contemporary artists seems to say that it doesn’t. Philippe Parreno, whose work was recently exhibited at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, presents Anywhen, a film of a cuttlefish that appears to speak a text, written by the artist and read aloud by ventriloquist Nina Conti. Meanwhile, Ian Cheng’s Emissary Forks at Perfection, eschews humans altogether for a live computer-simulation projected onto the gallery walls. The simulation, managed by an artificial intelligence named Talus Twenty Nine, follows the rebuilding of a world after an ecological disaster and is terrifyingly pertinent. In its unending repetition no two instances will be the same, the world may equally fail as well as flourish.
Up one level are sculptures by Wilhelm Sasnal and Adrian Villar Rojas, but the greatest draw of this level is French artist Cyprien Gaillard’s 3D film Nightlife, first shown in 2016 at The Store, London, in Infinite Mix. Over the course of two years Gaillard filmed the streets of Cleveland, Los Angeles and Berlin. Shooting exclusively at night he produced a surreal film of storms, gales, trees shifting and moving seemingly by themselves in amongst the urban landscape. Immersed in three dimensions, it’s difficult to not feel yourself transported to those places, witnessing the beauty in amongst violent weather and the destruction it causes.
Ascending another floor are found inhuman landscapes and organic forms that could exist at the beginning or the end of the universe. Matthew Barney’s sculpture Water Cast 6 resembles a system of tree roots, but was formed by pouring molten bronze into pits of clay and water; an elemental interaction recalling the volcanic landscape of the early Earth.
One of the most intriguing works in the show is Pierre Huyghe’s Cambrian Explosion 10. A reimagining of the traditional fish tank, Huyghe fills the large rectangular aquarium with an artificial rock and dark grey gravel, the only creatures in this self-contained ecosystem are primordial; anemones, urchins, and horseshoe crabs. Anicka Yi’s 3D film The Flavor Genome imagines a future world where clandestine laboratories in the Amazon extract the scent of a mythical rainforest flower in order to produce chemicals to allow humans to instantly empathise with other people and animals.
Moving up to the top of the building, the exhibition undergoes a change of tone; this floor is reserved entirely for the bright, lively and often terrifying work of Takashi Murakami. He’s an artist renowned for spending the past two decades inhabiting a ‘superflat’ world that mixes kawaii east Asian pop culture with traditional Taoist myths and legends and references to the natural and man-made disasters that have recently afflicted his home country.
His enormous Noah’s Ark panels are layered with shimmering gold and platinum leaf depict his alter-ego character ‘DOB’ surrounded by otherworldly scenes of sickly poisoned landscapes, smears that could be urban graffiti, and emoji-like faces. It’s like looking into a fractal, each detail of the panels is made up of more and more vivid imagery. In the room dedicated to The Octopus Eats its Own Leg, a ring of panels depict the ‘Eight Immortals’ of Taoism, while the centre of the chapel-like room features a large sculpture of the octopus, its tentacles curved and flowing like streams of water threatening to engulf everything in its path.
Predicting the future is difficult, reading the past can be equally so. The vision of the world put forward by this exhibition is, in parts, contradictory, the artworks are disparate in their style and significance – ephemeral video projections next to cheap found objects next to exquisitely moulded sculpture, optimism and cynicism – but they’re a reflection of the world as it is; complicated and confused, showing how far culture has moved in the past century. These artworks have, like our own lives, been brought together only temporarily to try and find meaning in an apparently endless cosmos.
Au diapason du monde runs at the Fondation Louis Vuitton until 27th August 2018