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The power of the Pinault collection on full display at Bourse de Commerce in Paris

Updated: 6 days ago

The latest exhibition of the Pinault Collection opened its doors in Paris last month. Entitled Le monde comme il va after the eponymous philosophical tale of 1748 by Voltaire (which could loosely be translated by “The state of the world” or “How the world is doing”), the show aims to give an account of the state of affairs in our contemporary world. To do so, it brings together a wide array of artists from different generations and levels of recognition (worldwide recognized artists alongside emerging artists with budding careers), giving a platform to the worldviews which transpire from their artworks. And this is truly where the Bourse de Commerce shines on the Parisian art scene: in the freedom it has to showcase things that don’t get a chance to be seen in more conventional museum settings.

In short, the mission statement of the exhibition is this: facing the paradoxes and the excesses of current affairsbe it war, economic crisis and so on—, artists take on the role of poetically and philosophically agitating our minds. The pieces on display are at times provocative, sometimes somber and melancholic, and other times cynical or sarcastic. Some of them even conjure up the ghosts of history which come back to haunt us, such as Maurizio Cattelan’s kneeling Hitler, or Luc Tuyman’s, Goshka Macuga’s and Sturtevant’s works. But however diverse the pieces are, a common trait they all have is their ability to question and reflect the uncertainties of today’s world.

Clay sculptures by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Courtesy of Pinault Collection

It should be said here that the bulk of François Pinault’s collection consists of artworks from the 1980’s and 1990’s.These paradoxical decades full of excess were not only times of unbridled capitalism in the Western World: they raised definitive awareness of the overthrowing of past hierarchies and value systems. As the exhibition catalogue puts it: Art—advertising—communication—marketing—economics were equated, for instance, and the figure of the collector emerged as a rival to that of the institution.” In the absence of hierarchies, what narratives deserve to be told? This question is asked by quite a few of the artists on show at Bourse de Commerce according to the exhibition catalogue: be it young sculptors Peter Fischli and David Weiss in their little mundane scenes and objects made out of clay, Jeff Koons and his desire to re-enchant “the world by offering it reassuring, childlike, shiny, kitsch forms” or Damien Hirst and his cold cabinets full of medicine boxes from 1997-98 (produced during the AIDS crisis) which shine the light on our contemporary obsession with health and the fear of death closely related to it.

Installation by Kippenberger on the ground floor of Bourse de Commerce

As such, the major themes of the Pinault collection once more transpire, and the fear of death is only one of the many expressions of the stark awareness of eminent change which is ubiquitous in the exhibition. As for the treatment of these themes, it is also quite standard of what the French magnate has us used to: humor is prevalent, as the exhibition seeks to express the collector’s desire to step back and see the problems of today in a lighthearted fashion, from a distance. Conceptual art fits the part as a means to this end in various parts of the exhibition. A few installations, such as the lamppost by Kippenberger, for instance add a comical touch to the exhibition space. And in one of the exhibits, one can see the artist Sturtevant's recreation of an installation of works by Marcel Duchamp, effectively doubling down on what Duchamp himself had undertaken by adding a second layer of distance between the artist and his work.

Sturtevant's recreation of a Duchamp exhibit. Courtesy of Pinault Collection

Both comical and appalling, the piece by SUN Yuan and PENG Yu—Old People’s Home (2007)—is also quite illustrative of the effectiveness of conceptual works to emphasize a message and change our perspective on something: the elderly, masculine figures of power (be it political, military, religious or intellectual) strolling about in electric wheelchairs and softly colliding in one of the exhibit rooms, give off a vibe of dark irony. Embodying figures of a patriarchy which is no longer capable of reaching any form of consensus to exert power, it also symbolizes our current leaders’ refusal to simply give it up.


Old People's Home (2007) by SUN Yuan and PENG Yu.

But the show is also full of more standard expressions of artistry, with a number of impressive paintings by various emerging or more recognized artists. In one of the rooms, for instance, after initially stumbling upon the broken Ferrari sculpture Dino (1993) by Bertrand Lavier, we can see a large painting full of apocalyptic smoke by the German artist Anne Imhof.

"Losing (Her Meaning)" by Marlene Dumas

Soon after, an impressive painting by Christopher Wool from 2007 awaits us in one of the nearby exhibits, just as we are done looking at works by Jeff Koons. Before or after that (depending on the way you rotate around the circular floor), visitors will have a chance to gaze at beautiful paintings by Marlene Dumas, one of which—Losing (Her Meaning)—is nothing short of masterful. In the same room, the great painting by Peter Doig, which constitutes the poster for the exhibition, draws us in. And two floors below, one can wonder at the immense paintings of Iraqi painter Mohammed Sami—one of the lesser known names of the show, but a rising star of the art market in recent years.

"Untitled" (2022) by Anne Imhof

An abysmal counterpoint to the artworks in the building all around, the center of the rotunda is covered with mirrors, effectively transforming the space in a manner which resonates with the ideas of Tadao Ando and his quest for an architecture giving room to the void and the infinite. Albeit beneath our feet, the gigantic mirror piece that Korean artist Kimsooja holds up to us at the center of the building not only serves as a reminder of how vertiginous the world can be: it is also a place of gathering, which brings us together and invites us to build the world as a collectivity. “I would like to create works that are like water and air, which cannot be owned, but that can be shared with everyone” explains Kimsooja. Since the 1980’s and particularly the late 1990’s, her performance art has progressively asserted itself on the international art scene, aiming to give spectators and onlookers an essential experience of universality. As for the mirror piece that takes up the center of Bourse de Commerce, it manages to give a playground feel to what could otherwise pass as merely another institutional art setting. With its recreational touch, the show (which is open until September 4) manages to attract many visitors from all parts of the world, as one soon realizes on site.

Courtesy of Pinault Collection



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