What happened at the Dallas Contemporary Saturday, January 17, 2015, has definitely garnered a lot of attention, especially from the art world. I’m sure by now every person who has heard about Loris Gréaud has only heard of his confusing destruction of the museum space for his exhibition of “The Unplayed Notes Museum.” However, not many have actually explained the reason behind these actions or even recognized its importance. Just three months ago, I was a visitor service intern for the Dallas Contemporary, researching this intriguing French artist. I see now that this is my opportunity to share with you the importance of these events through the dissemination of exclusive information I have gathered from my relationship with “The Unplayed Notes Museum.”
French artist Loris Gréaud has popularized himself as one of the most ambitious conceptual artists of our generation. His works challenge the conventions of time and space, transcending the norm and creating unique experiences that come to life through his exploratory installations. In the past, he has been recognized for unconventional installations like those at the 2011 Venice Biennale and Palais de Tokyo in Paris. His most recent activity marked his debut at an American museum and seized the entire space at Dallas Contemporary in a challenging exhibition titled “The Unplayed Notes Museum.” The exhibition was highly anticipated since its conceptual debut, but the events that took place during its opening reception on January 17th were anything but expected.
Museum members gathered at the Dallas Contemporary on Saturday night to be transported into a unique world created by Gréaud that represented the form of a hyper-organized natural history museum. They walked the space, engaging in various subjects of zoology, evolution, alchemy, and ideology. Almost encyclopedic in its structure, visitors would wander through this exhibition as if they were wandering through the pages of a book, much like the ones that lined the walls in the museum titled “Encyclopedia of Irresolution.” However, in an unexpected turn of events, visitors began to witness the sudden and helpless destruction of the space they were in. The urgency behind these actions left them stunned – witnessing such a confusing activity that created a severe temporality to the space and the works that defined it. Preparing for the show seemed to be a daunting task filled with excitement and uncertainty for the staff at the Dallas Contemporary. Senior curator and director of exhibitions, Justine Ludwig, shared what it was like preparing for the destruction of such a large show.
“For months we worked on the show prior to the destruction element becoming part of the narrative. The destruction added a whole new dynamic to the exhibition, but did not change the logistics of the installation. We proceeded as before because the exhibition did exist in its pristine state for a few days. I did not know what to expect from the destruction. It was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.”
I asked Autumn Hill, director of learning at the Dallas Contemporary, what it was like anticipating the events that would take place just prior to the opening reception. Because the plan was to destroy part of each space, there was no room for practice before the actual event. She mentioned the initial concern was safety – how could a 26,000 square footed space be a vessel of destruction with 200 unsuspecting visitors excitedly roaming the exhibition? As expected, however, every visitor left the museum unharmed. Autumn also stated she began to worry just how much of the exhibition would be destroyed before the night came to an end. Despite the sounds of emergency alarms and security guards urging evacuation, visitors lingered, still intrigued by the destructive events. Just like a car wreck, they couldn’t seem to look away. What was once a space of hyper-order is now an environment frozen in a moment of chaos – challenging the contemplation of what once existed through observing the irresolution in its place.
Sunday afternoon following the event of destruction, the Dallas Contemporary hosted an artist talk with Gréaud. Interviewer Frank Dufour began the talk by asking Gréaud about the events that took place at the opening reception the night before, calling to attention the complexity of the irresolution that gave new meaning to “The Unplayed Notes Museum.” He asked how perfection, a theme so often encountered in Gréaud’s work, exists here within the exhibition in the midst of all the destruction. Gréaud stated that the perfection within “The Unplayed Notes Museum” was represented by the state in which the exhibition currently resides, which is a state of irresolution. As it pertains to the exhibition, creation exists in the midst of destruction. This state complicates the viewer’s emotions as they try to understand and interpret their surroundings. Much like the way a musician interprets a chorus, Gréaud said there is no incorrect way of reading the work. He shared, “I think a good work of art or a good display has to create its own reading, its own displacement and a shell of interpretation.” It is up to the viewer’s ability to make a new interpretation of the space that completes it and gives it meaning.
This brought Dufour to the topic of authority. He asked how Gréaud was able to give up authority as an artist through destruction and the opening of interpretation to make the work our own. Gréaud stated, “What happened [Saturday] night put me in this weird and exciting position with mixed feelings. […] I’m still in shock of it. I love being one of the viewers because at some point in this choreographing there is a part of losing control. I was the viewer of my own production and I think it felt weird and great at the same time.” Walking through the destruction, it is very evident that all authority had been eliminated. It felt almost as if I were walking through an abandoned home, alive in its haunted past, but deceased in progression. During my visit, I watched as one visitor made his way into the mess to make a better observation, only waiting until after to ask, “Was I supposed to get that close?” There is no intimidating feeling of an almighty creator that might hinder our relationship with the work. It is flawed, complex, natural, and free.
Multisensory elements of the exhibition such as flickering lights, clamorous audio, visuals of underwater explosions and acts of sexual intercourse seem to enhance our emotions of interpretation. Justine Ludwig described her relationship with the show as it engages with subjects such as, “the history of the kunst/wunderkammer, the human desire to classify knowledge, also the manifestation of violence.” A visitor shared with me his discomfort within the space to be exciting and contemplative and described the whole exhibition, in one word, to be “mystical.” In Gréaud’s book on “The Unplayed Notes Museum,” the space is explained to exist on the equilibrium of two contradictory realities: order and chaos. We the viewer are challenged to understand the relationship between the two as they are frozen in time before us.
The importance of this exhibition exists in Gréaud’s timeline as an artist. His past works have always challenged the existence of order as it pertains to space and time. His conceptualization of a space comes to life through his execution of audio, visual and, in the case of the Dallas Contemporary, action. “The Unplayed Notes” existed in other forms at Pace Gallery in New York in 2012 and other locations in Paris, France. While not commandeering an entire museum space, the exhibitions before it still translated a similar interpretation, featuring “a series of site-specific, multisensory installations that activate new ways of experiencing Gréaud’s on-going investigation of altered realities,” according to the press release from Pace Gallery. In a perfect happening, I found myself with the orchestrator Loris Gréaud on his final visit to the Contemporary. I took the opportunity to ask him how his emotional and physical relationship with “Unplayed Notes” changed from Pace Gallery and Paris to here. He generously explained,
“Every project has its own authority, so it’s a bit more forward than what I’ve done at the Centre Pompidou and the Louvre. Even at the Pace Gallery, the idea was to focus on the space between two works, and this is to focus on two different states: half well organized and half broken. So it’s more about this invisible link between two different states. And “The Unplayed Notes” in Paris and at Pace was inside of the space, so I’d say that it’s wider in terms of thought.”
Frank Dufour stated, “The museum is not just a vessel. The museum is an actor in your work, and the museum is a contributor to your work.” The Dallas Contemporary has this great opportunity to be the actor in “The Unplayed Notes Museum.” Justine Ludwig shared that the impact of the show has been all positive for the museum. “We [at the Dallas Contemporary] are committed to supporting artists in taking risks in their work. We do not censor their creative process.” As a curator, she sees that her role is to support “the creation of challenging and ambitious art.” The importance of the participation of the Dallas Contemporary is to act as a progression from the exhibitions at the Louvre and Centre Pompidou. Gréaud stated, “It is the next step of pushing things forward and experimenting with the blurring of boundaries between fiction and reality.”
Just like the unplayed notes of an orchestra, Loris Gréaud shared with me that his future is excitedly unknown, yet I’m sure we can expect anything to come to be masterfully orchestrated beyond our imaginations.
Listen to Loris Greaud discuss his work in “The Unplayed Notes Museum” exhibition along with Frank Dufour. (Originally Recorded: 01/18/2015)
Last modified: January 26, 2015