Frank Gehry's architecture often looks like it's in motion, but for an exhibition currently showing in Arles, it is actually moving. The 'Solaris Chronicles' exhibition, produced by the Luma Foundation, ties in with the beginning of construction on a new arts centre, designed by Gehry to form the centrepiece of the foundation's 20-acre campus.
The show's curatorial team includes the definition-defying French artist Philippe Parreno, British conceptual artist Liam Gillick and Serpentine Gallery curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Looking for a dynamic way to present a selection of Gehry's architectural models, they turned to Anglo-German artist Tino Sehgal, a master of experience creation.
Sehgal choreographed a team of assistants to push around large rolling tables bearing models of Gehry buildings, realised or not, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, the Guggenheims in Bilbao and Abu Dhabi, the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, New York, and the National Art Museum of China. A dissonant score by Pierre Boulez, one of Gehry's friends, accompanies Sehgal's choreography. Overhead, a lamp glides along a ceiling track like a rapidly moving sun, while Parreno's flashing marquees add their own staccato rhythm.
The exhibition's goal, says Maja Hoffmann, founder of the Luma Foundation, is to examine the California-based architect's vision and explore how his freeform spirit is close to other forms of art. 'I said we need to present Gehry to the local people because they only know what they've read and it's not what we have in mind for Arles. Our project is going to be different. We did not commission a starchitect to build a second Bilbao.'
Hoffmann created Luma in 2004 to produce and support contemporary art and culture, including the annual photography festival in Arles. The festival occupied the site of an abandoned railyard whose closure in 1984 plunged Arles into an economic downturn from which it has yet to recover. In 2007, she learned the derelict site needed a serious overhaul and decided to develop a campus for photography. The concept evolved as she began thinking about how to draw a larger public to Arles, and now the grounds will be turned into a complex for all contemporary creation. Rather than just 'doing art', she says this is an undertaking that will benefit the whole town.
She hired Gehry, a personal friend, to design a new arts centre that would house research facilities, artist studios, workshop rooms and presentation spaces. His 56m-tall tower will be a deconstructed mirror of the region, its jagged steel edges like the rocky peaks of the Alpilles mountains above a round drum like the city's Roman arena. (The New York architect Annabelle Selldorf will also be renovating a series of historic industrial buildings on the same site.)
Hoffmann also put together a core group, a sort of think tank made up of art-world personalities who share a similar outlook - Parreno, Gillick, Obrist and the curators Tom Eccles and Beatrix Ruf. They meet two or three times a year and take turns mounting projects while the others assist. Hoffmann refers to the group as a peloton, a pack in a cycling race who ride close together and look out for one another.
Together, the group are considering new ways of producing exhibitions beyond displaying static objects in a museum. Each one of their projects is collaborative and multi-disciplinary. 'I have nothing against institutions from the last century,' Hoffmann says. 'They are great. But we hear from people working inside the business how difficult it has become to produce within these structures. We are trying to create a space for more flexibility and partnerships with other players and producers.'
This approach is second nature for Parreno, who is surprisingly unassuming for an artist who recently took over the entire Palais de Tokyo in Paris (see W*176). 'I started out making art that way, putting the project before the object,' he says. As for creating a show in conjunction with so many other talents, he notes: 'It may seem a bit chaotic but ultimately it isn't, because we have a common grammar. It's like if you go to see a rehearsal at the theatre or opera, it looks very chaotic but each person knows what he or she is doing.'
'Solaris Chronicles' is a prime example of this new type of exhibition - a loose and ever-changing show with contributions by Parreno, Gillick, Sehgal, Boulez and John Baldessari. In July, photos by David Lynch, fireworks by Cai Guo-Qiang and an interactive installation by Rirkrit Tiravanija join the mix, along with Gehry's models of Facebook's new West Campus building in Menlo Park, California.
Parreno likes the idea of an exhibition evolving over time. Artists who are not ready can still take part after the opening, just like Gehry's arts centre will assume its place in the foundation's overall project upon its completion in 2018. As Parreno explains, the experience is 'a journey we started without architecture because the passengers are already here. Then the building - the spaceship - will arrive. And we'll climb inside and it will take us somewhere else.'
This article - and a collectible copy of Philippe Parreno's 'Harey' postcard - appears in the August 2014 issue, out now