Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
‘Elysian Fields’ refers to the heavenly dwelling where, in Greek mythology, the righteous lived after death. However, although the French title, Champs Elysées, obviously refers to Paris’ famous shopping boulevard, (which is now filled by with fast-food joints and garish multiplexes), the work was shown in a succession of low-slung, ranch-style houses, and so was more evocative of LA than Paris.
This somewhat utopian, dreamy suburbia was conceived under the aegis of the Purple Institute, the Paris-based think-tank and offspring of Purple magazine, which was founded in 1992 by Elein Fliess and Olivier Zahm to combine fashion and art. The duo applied the same formula to ‘Elysian Fields’, in order, as they expressed it, ‘to explore the new territories of dream, the oneric activities that are opening up poetic spaces at the edges of abstraction’.
Based on Mies van der Rohe’s German pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona Exposition, a series of pale pink pavilions divided the galleries into a succession of five open, free-flowing spaces. Art was hung on the interior and exterior of these glass-walled, open houses; some pieces were strewn on the gallery floor, like lawn furniture. Adding to the charm and lyricism, the pavilions surrounded Jean-Luc Vilmouth’s insouciant central installation of leafy potted plants, watered by a maze of black hosing which seemed, magically, to come from nowhere. Wafting through the background, a lyrical soundtrack offered up guitar, synthesiser, and soft electric piano by Sonic Youth, Tortoise, Oval, David Grubbs, Tom Verlaine, and Jeff Rian/Palix.
Poetic spaces that suggested dreamscapes or interior states, each pavilion had a different name - Residence Rêve (Dream House)or Villa Rouge (Red Villa), for example. Each housed objects by 50 or so people from various disciplines: Gerhard Richter and Richard Prince to Alex Bag, Martine Aballéa, filmmaker Takashi Kitano, and Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo.
Amongst this rather eclectic mix mingled a variety of moods, from the whimsical - Kitano’s paintings of flowers with animal heads, Andrea Zittel’s foam Monument Valley (1998) and Shimabuku’s enigmatic film, I’m Travelling with a 165mm Mermaid (1998) - to emotionally distant renderings of banal subjects, such as Miltos Manetas’ painting Untitled (Elena with Pearls) (1997), or Takashi Homma’s photograph of a trendy couple in a hotel. Other works hinted at Utopia as a place of hedonistic desire: Mlasafuli Masai’s sensual photo of a nubile girl with milky-white skin; Claude Lévèque’s red-carpet space, lit by glowing red lamps; Richard Prince’s car bonnets; Bernard Joisten’s Ice Control (2000), a shiny, brand new Peugeot parked in an airy neon carport.
As much as the actual content of the works defined a cool, contemporary paradise, the show’s hang created an atmosphere which privileged imagination and whimsy over ideology. It was a post-Modern hodge-podge of an installation which, apart from a lovely but utterly incomprehensible map, avoided wall labels, captions, diagrams, or any other type of explanatory text. The extensive, wordless 400-page catalogue is also wholly unencumbered by explanation, and mingled some of the images from the show with additional visual ‘proposals’ by the artists on the ‘dream theme’. In effect, it was an approach which invited the visitor to float haphazardly through the show without analysis or judgement; it encouraged a kind of lazy drifting. Never deeply moving or profound, nothing socked you in the guts with its beauty. ‘Elysian Fields’ was pretty, sweet, and inconsequential, like a cherry-flavoured sweet you enjoy while chewing, but without much of an aftertaste.