Hôtels Particuliers: Alternative Spaces for Contemporary Art



by Emily Waldorf

Sterile glass and concrete cubes are the first thing that come to mind when thinking of typical spaces for exhibiting contemporary art.  This is not the case in Paris, where contemporary art exhibitions are often displayed in classical hôtels particuliers alongside paintings and sculpture that spans the centuries.  A hôtel particulier is the urban equivalent of a French château, many of which have been donated to the state over the years and turned into single artist or single collection museums open to the public, such as the musée Jacquemart-Andre, musée Maillol, musée Cognacq- Jay, and countless others.  These smaller-scale museum gems are a refreshing alternative to the tourist packed Louvre and musée d’Orsay and unlikely but delightful spaces to view stimulating contemporary art.

French conceptual artist Daniel Buren is overseeing the musée Picasso’s ongoing renovation and staging a series of installations that interact with the permanent collection and classical architecture of the Hôtel Salé in the Marais.  The museum officially integrated contemporary art into its programming in 2007 during the 1937/Guernica/2007 exhibition.  Prior to becoming the musée Picasso in 1985, the Hôtel Salé was the headquarters of the Ecole des Metiers d’Arts where Buren was a student and met Picasso in the late 1950’s.

Buren’s installation “La Coupure – travail in situ” consists of a temporary wall, with exposed scaffolding, that dominates half of the entry courtyard at almost 199 feet in height.  Made from reflective polycarbonate, the surface of the wall is divided by a diagonal through its length, creating two large triangles, one covered in mirrors and the other in black panels.  This reflective “cutting” device penetrates the building, from the front courtyard to the back garden, forcing a complete physical and spiritual rupture with the Hotel Salé’s classical lines and setting the stage for the ongoing renovation of the museum and reinstallation of the permanent collection.

A second contemporary art installation of note also housed in a beautiful hôtel particulier is English video artist Gillian Wearing’s “Confessions/Portraits, Videos,” at the Rodin Museum.  Tucked away on the second floor of the Hotel Biron, Wearing’s exhibition consists of three confessional videos, Trauma, Confess all on video, and Secrets and Lies.  Wearing found her subjects through classified advertisements and invited them to reveal their innermost secrets wearing circus-like masks to protect their identity and make them feel more at ease.  Wearing creates an excruciating angst on the part of the viewer as they watch her subjects confessing to childhood trauma and shame, an angst made ironic by the culture of oversharing spawned by social networking and the celebrity gossip fueled media.

Wearing’s videos are a total departure from the Rodin museums’ permanent collection of sculptures, but a nice complement to the visit, creating a link with the old and new.  Similarly, Buren’s interactive makeover of the Picasso museum’s structure and permanent collection is a fresh take on art and architecture of the past.  Taking contemporary art out of the context of the sterile white cube and inserting it into a visually rich space with works from many periods of art and architecture adds depth and meaning to the contemporary work.

Daniel Buren’s “La Coupure- travail en situ” is on view through September 1, 2009, Musée National Picasso, Hôtel Salé 
5, rue de Thorigny 
75003, Paris.  http://www.musee-picasso.fr/

Gillian Wearing’s “Confessions/Portraits, Videos,” is on view through August 23, 2009, Musée Rodin, Hôtel Biron, 79 rue de Varenne, 75007, Paris.  www.musee-rodin.fr

4 Responses to “Hôtels Particuliers: Alternative Spaces for Contemporary Art”

  1. I love to visit this place surely. Thanks for passing this on here and that Hotel Particuliers turns to be the alternative for today’s arts. From Home Stager Toronto

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