Daria de Beauvais, Senior Curator at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, talks about the exhibition she curated for Art Safari: „The Memory Palace. Focus on the French art scene with the Marcel Duchamp Prize”

Art Safari will open its new season of temporary exhibitions on February 10th. One of the shows is put together in collaboration with Institut Français de Roumanie and ADIAF (Association for International Diffusion of French Art), having Daria de Beauvais, Senior Curator at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, as curator. The exhibition will bring together the works of 10 artists active on the French contemporary art scene: Farah Atassi, Michel Blazy, Katinka Bock, Mircea Cantor, Clément Cogitore, Daniel Dewar & Grégory Gicquel, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Enrique Ramírez, Thu-Van Tran and Tatiana Trouvé, all of them previously awarded the Marcel Duchamp Prize, one of the most important distinctions for contemporary art in France. Daria de Bauvais gave Propagarta an insight into the upcoming show in Bucharest.

There is little time left until „The Memory Palace” exhibition will open its gates to the public in Bucharest. What was the biggest challenge that you and your team encountered while working on this project? Was there something that you focused on in particular, in terms of delivering the exhibit’s message to the public in Romania?

I would say the biggest challenge we had to face was time: this ambitious exhibition was conceived and produced in less than six months, which is quite a miracle! But everyone involved has worked hard, and it is almost funny to have time as an issue for an exhibition addressing memory and history. This exhibition was inspired by two topics: First, the French art scene, a focus chosen by Art Safari, the Institut Français de Roumanie and the ADIAF who were at the origin of the project. The ADIAF was founded almost thirty years ago, it mobilises 300 contemporary art collectors and its mission is to contribute to the international promotion of the French art scene, notably by creating the Marcel Duchamp Prize, the most important contemporary art prize in France. Of course „French art scene” is quite an open idea, with artists both French or living in France and in other countries, with different cultures and stories influencing their creation (for instance: Romania for Mircea Cantor, Chile for Enrique Ramírez, Vietnam for Thu-Van Tran…).
The second topic was its local environment: Bucharest, and more specifically the Dacia-Romania Palace that hosts Art Safari. I wanted the French and Romanian contexts to intertwine, and avoid an exhibition that would just be „the best of the French art scene”. In terms of delivering the exhibition’s message to the Romanian audience, we focused on pedagogy, with texts explaining the context, the different sections of the exhibition and each artwork. Art Safari also develops mediation with a team of tour guides. But of course the artworks also speak for themselves, it is not only about understanding them but also about feeling them, about having emotions.

Portret Mircea Cantor, Credit foto: Jean Picon

Of course, all names of the selected artists are well-known in the contemporary art world and we are definitely looking forward to seeing their works put together in this show. When was the concept of the exhibition born? Were the artists invited to participate before or after the main idea of the show was defined?
As often in my curatorial practice, concepts are inspired by artists and vice-versa. I also wanted a small list of artists (there are just ten artists or artists duos) in order to be able to have an in-depth dialogue with each of them but also to show several of their works, for visitors to have a better understanding of their practice.
It was my first visit to the Dacia-Romania Palace that prompted me to imagine „The Memory Palace – Focus on the French art scene with the Marcel Duchamp Prize”. I think that places have a soul, and this building has seen a lot throughout its history. The artists then quite naturally came to my mind, all of them have in common to work about history, about memory.

Portret Michel Blazy.  Credit foto: Andrea Avezzù

Michel Blazy, Untitled, 2018: Prin amabilitatea artistului și Art Concept Gallery, Paris

„The Memory Palace” show will take place in a real-life „memory palace”, because the building currently housing Art Safari exhibitions was built over a century ago and has a meaningful history, corresponding to our country’s own recent past: the restless interwar and postwar period, the cultural genocide in the communist era and the disorientation brought by the years transitiong to an european society. Will there be any dialogue between the artworks and this space?

As I was saying, this exhibition was specifically conceived for the Dacia-Romania Palace. I was very sensitive to this place and its history, but also to the fact that Art Safari is trying to give it a new life with art, both heritage and contemporary. In terms of space and scenography, the exhibition is distributed in two quasi- symmetrical areas, playing on a mirror hanging and impressions of deja vu. It invites visitors to get lost in the maze of these former offices, of this memory palace, both real (the Dacia-Romania building) and symbolic (the exhibition).

Intercultural museum exchanges are starting to come back to life after the pandemic and Art Safari declared publicly that they are trying to establish as many connections as possible, worldwide, and so did other cultural institutions in Romania. What is your advice to these institutions that want to begin to collaborate internationally?

The pandemic has taught the art world a few things. For me one of these things is that we need to confront ourselves physically to the artworks, seeing them via a screen gives an idea but will never replace the real experience. On another note, international collaborations are very important to create dynamics and to share knowledge. My point of view is that international collaborations should be developed not just for the sake of it, but for meaningful reasons: are there specific links or connections between the countries or the institutions? Is the project making sense in terms of common interest / research or in terms of ecosystems? I don’t think any project can take place in any exhibition venue.

What are your expectations regarding the upcoming show in Bucharest? What would you like the visitors to understand and remember about the exhibition?

I’ve worked with dedication and sincerity on this project, with the generous support of Art Safari, the Institut Français and the ADIAF, and the help of my curatorial assistant Lisa Colin. I hope that the exhibition will meet its audience, and people will understand that contemporary art talk about them. Artists witness their time, unleashing the power of their imagination by exploring the social and political realities of yesterday, today and tomorrow

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