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LES ECHOS

A Paris Exhibit Where The Art Is For The Taking

An 18-century gallery has been transformed into a "venue of free and creative exchange," upending the usual relationship between art and the public.

Go ahead, take them...
Go ahead, take them...
Emmanuelle Lequeux

PARIS — The latest exhibition at the Monnaie de Paris is titled, "Take Me (I'm Yours)," but don't worry, there's nothing sexual about it. Almost everything on exhibit here can be taken, swapped, replaced or bought for a very modest sum. Used clothes, white and blue pills, vials containing an unknown liquid from artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, badges from artists Gilbert & George that read "Ban religion," a postcard with an astute haiku from Yoko Ono.

Monnaie de Paris has transformed "its 18th-century galleries into a venue of free and creative exchange, designed to overturn the conventional relationship between art and the public," the exhibition's notice says. Visitors are encouraged to help themselves to anything and everything, even given bags at the entrance to facilitate carrying their haul. Even the painted eggs that ornament the Grand Staircase are available for the taking.

So what's this all about? Is it a bizarre bazaar, an artsy flea market, an alternative art show to protest materialism? It's actually a reinterpretation of a project that was created 20 years ago for London's Serpentine Galleries. The authors, curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist and the famous artist Christian Boltanski, are back at the helm with a second act. This time it's in collaboration with Chiara Parisi, director of cultural programs for Monnaie de Paris.

"An exhibition is a lot more than just putting art pieces on the walls," Obrist says. "It's a rule of the game, and we love to change these rules with artists." He believes the exhibit is "an antidote more necessary than ever against the omnipresence of commerce."

Boltanski, his longtime partner-in-crime, adds, "It's about time we gave this overly serious and professional art world some air to breathe, some freedom. I mean, artists only think about one thing: how to sell at the International Contemporary Art Fair," he says, smiling, as if he's just pulled a good prank.

Making a statement

On top of having designed the piles of clothes that fill the first exhibition room, Boltanski also created a strangely familiar audio environment: A Christmas song turned into a funeral march. It's just a way to say that they really aren't joking. The gifting economy isn't anecdotal, as visual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres used to demonstrate. Spreading the floor with dispersed candy or used lightbulbs, the Cuban-American artist, who died of AIDS in 1996, used scenes as a metaphor for dying.

"It's also a reflection on the notion of relic as much as wanting to remind people that there are other ways than the market economy," Boltanski says. "Movements like Dada or Fluxus have shown us that much."

Their heirs are welcome here, starting with Hans-Peter Feldmann, the German iconoclast who has spent his entire life striving to make his works accessible to as many people as possible. "We sense his touch and humor with a room full of postcards and little iron-made replicas of the Eiffel Tower that visitors can take home with them, to decorate their living rooms," Boltanksi says.

Compared to its first version in the 1990s, the current exhibition has integrated more modern elements and made updates to account for technological development. Wolfgang Tillmans is offering free downloads of his photos, for example, and Philippe Parreno is giving away one of his films on DVDs (though it will erase itself once it's been viewed).

There are also echoes (though not enough) of much talked about alternative economies. Roman Ondak, for example, beautifully stages a barter/performance in which anybody can exchange any of their belongings for the one that was put there last. A motorcycle helmet for a glove, for a scarf, for a fan, for a card holder, etc. The circulation of goods becomes a kind of slow choreography.

But for those who don't have money to give, try to imagine the future when making your choices. A few pieces taken for a nickel and a dime 20 years ago are now worth a significant amount on eBay.

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