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 â€" 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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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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