Collection Lambert, Hôtel de Caumont,, Avignon, France
It was a weird feeling returning to the blank walls of my home after spending time with the masterpieces included in ‘Collections d’ Artistes’. For the most part, the exhibition - which comprised works from the personal collections of various artists - included paintings and objects endowed not only with fabulous historical and monetary value but also unique and mysterious stories. In fact, the most interesting aspect of the show was the way in which it conjured up stories of friendship, desire and luck that are written on the walls of the homes of these artists (many of whom allowed snapshot views of the work in situ to be reproduced in the catalogue).
The show revealed myriad appro-aches towards display and conservation. These ranged from interiors that recall the pages of 1980s interior decoration magazines (the museum-like organization of Sol Lewitt; the theatrically decorated rooms of Julian Schnabel, Miguel Barcelo, Andreas Serrano and Francesco Clemente) and the family atmosphere of homes owned by Brice Marden, and Christo and Jeanne Claude. The museum chose to reshuffle the works and hang them in a loosely thematic way, which resulted in transforming the Hôtel de Caumont into something of a luxurious private home, complete with a great hall hung with monumental works, while dark curio cabinets in the attic stored Barcelo’s animals, Serrano’s religious paraphernalia and Nan Goldin’s Japanese artefacts. A disquieting Andy Warhol hung in the entrance, (Zeitgeist, c. 1975), looking as if it had always been there.
Some of these juxtapositions worked well, as in the rooms dedicated to 1950s American art, which displayed works by Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns. Other sections, however, felt like run-on sentences, linking, for example, the wondrous images by Diane Arbus with less convincing photographs. In another section, a seemingly endless selection of works by Yves Klein, Robert Ryman, Piero Manzoni and Richard Tuttle were monotonously hung opposite a row of Japanese armour, the pristine condition of which unhappily lent the pictures the status of formally pleasing bibelots in a wealthy living room.
Perhaps stemming from an understandable desire to be un-institutional, the show attempted to recreate the intimate atmosphere of a private collection. But ultimately, it was an approach that compounded the exhibition’s weaknesses, at times reducing the project to glossy gossip (who owns what) rather than exploring the connections that link artists.
However, there was a certain jubilation evident in the act of looking, which brought together the rather dated pictures of Clemente, Barcelo, and Schnabel; their friendship was evident in works such as a collaborative painting by Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Clemente (Hand Ball, 1985), and several portraits: Schnabel by Warhol, and Clemente by Robert Mapplethorpe. Other threads of dialogue were also apparent, such as that running between the works of Paul Cézanne, Louise Bourgeois, Roni Horn and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. A small Cézanne engraving owned by Bourgeois recalled her own embroidered handkerchiefs, while Horn’s collection included drawings by Bourgeois and a photo by Gonzalez-Torres, which evoked their close friendship. The discovery that Daniel Buren owns a complete collection of the Surrealist magazine Documents and a rare painting by Guy Debord emphasized the radical quality of his artistic position despite the decorative bent of his recent work. And although Ellsworth Kelly’s collection was characterized by works from a variety of periods, geography and styles, it reflected the linear purity so typical of his own paintings.
These and other works raised essential questions about how and why art history is written up, and suggested a reading of contemporary art that resists a negation of the past. A good example of this was Johns’ intense admiration for Cézanne, whose work occupies a prominent place in his collection. Investigating these links, and thus reflecting upon the way that the history of art ultimately writes itself was the greatest boon of the show - and glimpsing the skeleton that lives at the foot of Serrano’s bed allowed for future art gossip.