Last Friday afternoon, I stepped into the Dallas Contemporary galleries with select members of the press to get an early view of Loris Gréaud's The Unplayed Notes Museum, an exhibition meant to fill the mammoth warehouse space -- roughly 26,000 square feet of emptiness for the artist to play in. And he created what he calls a "new kind of natural history museum," filling much of it with a taste for slick decadence. There were lacquered black paintings and oversized sculptures. In one room a herd of black, mutated sheep were frozen mid-motion, running past globular lights that seemed straight out of the many design boutiques on Dragon Street just a few blocks away.
In another room there was a video of a man and a woman having sex, but filmed with a thermal imaging camera. So, as Gréaud explains it, he hired "sex professionals" and asked them to attempt orgasm so he could film the way heat travels through their bodies. Then, he spins the image in strange ways to make it look artistic. Ah, yes, genius.
And this sort of interest in appearances runs throughout the space. In each room, the only thing binding it all together beyond decorative hollowness are books that line a small portion of the floor in each room, titled Encyclopedia of Irresolution." And in each room of really boring art, I have this urge to topple the statues and tear the art from the walls and throw it across the room, screaming, "ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME?"
This is perhaps one of the few things I understand about Gréaud and this exhibition, because he also wanted to destroy it.
Halfway through a patron party -- the Dallas Contemporary used to have free, open to the public artist receptions, but this year became a membership institution, making their opening night parties a big to-do that keeps the wine-guzzling freeloading artist types out -- he staged a destruction of his work. Now, I wasn't there, so my understanding of what happened is mostly hearsay, a few Youtube videos, and a Page Six report. Oh, and the artist casually mentioning it to a small group of the press the day before it happens. "We've hired 20 or so actors to tear paintings off the wall and break statues." Not exactly anarchy. And from all reports, not exactly the titillating event anticipated.
Because titillation is what he was trying to do, right? Build a bombastic, artistic, sexy show and then destroy it, with the destruction standing in for some kind of real experience. And those moments of being asked to leave the party you'd paid for, the confusion, the purported mayhem, those were the pivotal moments of the entire exhibition that remains "on display" through March 21. Or is there something more at work? Something he's saying about who saw the performance, or something he's saying about Dallas, or the art world?
I've been thinking about it a lot for the past week. What did he mean by destroying the art? Or what did he mean by his installation in the first place? There is something that's meant to be site-specific, right? This work was created for the Dallas Contemporary over five years of discussion. He made a large, pretentious, vapid exhibition that you can imagine people walking through, nodding and smiling, before being escorted out for a fabricated emergency.
In one room of raised, disembodied fists (which upon second glance appear to be performing sign language), a sound installation features poetry based on William S. Burrough's writing. One of the repeated lines is "To stay present; to stay absent; to stay up; to stay down; to stay in; to stay out; to stay present." It's the only thing in the entire exhibition that is saying something to us, although it's not saying anything in particular. It was the room of abstracted language, where like the rest of the exhibition, everything seemed important but meant nothing at all.
It became representative to me of how I see a lot of contemporary conceptual art. The presence, the absence, the convolution, an attempt to say something so desperate that nothing gets said. An audience just as interested in artistic consumption -- or the appearance of it -- that we engage with the emptiness, we believe the narratives, we assign value.
If you're Gréaud and you've spent much of your career attempting to engage a disengaged audience, what do you do? When you are working to create something for a Dallas audience what do you create?
His answer: build a museum within a museum destined for destruction. The art all created elsewhere, then lugged into its place where it will be destroyed. The only thing truly site-specific about the work being its destruction.
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You can draw plenty of conclusions about what Gréaud might be saying about Dallas by destroying a history museum under the auspices of another museum. He's also probably considering the art world, which allows artists and institutions to recreate or reframe history by imbuing meaning.
In that pre-ruination tour, Gréaud said he derived the exhibition's name from a composer who once said that what people should've been listening to were the notes unplayed. That it's not about the melodies or what did happen, but what didn't.
When you seek some sort of greater meaning, a revelation, a higher calling, well, you're bound to be disappointed not just from Gréaud's museum but from life. The idea of destroying your art as performance isn't new. Nothing he put on display was new, actually. So, what didn't he create for us?
I would argue that he didn't create much art. After all, he knew he was going to destroy it. And what artist would do that?