Toulouse festival focuses on the artists
In contrast to Venice’s sprawling exhibition, this revamped event in southern France offers an in-depth look at just eight artists and designers
By Cristina Ruiz. Web only
Published online: 28 May 2013
Just a few days before the art world migrates en masse to Venice for the Biennale, the city of Toulouse in southern France has launched the first edition of its newly revamped annual contemporary art exhibition.
The Toulouse International Arts Festival is the antithesis of the huge, sprawling Italian event; this year it includes just eight artists. Some are given in-depth shows. Work by the veteran British painter Howard Hodgkin is presented in a mini-retrospective in a 16th-century townhouse while the late American minimalist Tony Smith is the subject of a beautifully-curated exhibition at Les Abattoirs, a contemporary art space in Toulouse, which places his paintings, sculptures and drawings alongside the work of his daughters Kiki and Seton.
Other artists are showing just one major installation or project. The British artist Lindsay Seers has made a video and sound work inspired by the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela which is in the Pilgrims' Room of the Hôtel Dieu, a hospital originally founded in the 12th century, now a Unesco world heritage site, and one of several spectacular historic sites along Toulouse's river Garonne which are used as venues for this show.
"This is a focussed, quality, high-level art experience," says Christy MacLear, the director of the Rauschenberg Foundation in New York and the chair this year of the six-person committee which will steer the Toulouse festival for the forseeable future—an organisational structure that makes this event unique.
"What appealed to me about Toulouse is the longevity of creative leadership," says MacLear. She and her colleagues on the committee—Penelope Curtis (Tate Britain), Philippe Vergne (Dia Art Foundation), Eckhard Schneider (Pinchuk Art Centre), Isabelle Gaudefroy (Cartier Foundation), and Olivier Michelon (Les Abattoirs, Toulouse)—will cultivate a "dialogue" with artists and commission projects two, even three, years in advance.
The aim is to "put artists at the forefront", says the Toulouse artistic director Jean-Marc Bustamante, himself an artist, who says he wants to reverse the trend for curators taking the spotlight. "At shows like the Venice Biennale, the curators are much more well known than the artists," he says. "Every interview is with the curator" and the artists are nowhere to be seen, he adds.
"Curators today have a really short attention span," agrees the German video artist Julian Rosefeldt whose four-screen installation entitled My home is a dark and cloud-hung land, an evocative exploration on the theme of homeland which explores the place of the forest in German consciousness, is on show in Les Jacobins, a 13th-century Dominican monastery. When planning shows, curators "put together lists of artists and then hand these to their researchers who do all the work", says Rosefeldt, adding that what appealed to him about taking part in the Toulouse festival was the idea of developing a long-term relationship with the event and its organisers.
The aim is to make the festival "quite well known internationally in the next four or five years" through the strength of its programming and the event's unique location, Bustamante says. The exhibition was first launched by the collector Marie-Therese Perrin over 20 years ago in the nearby town of Cahors as a photography and video event. It moved to Toulouse ten years later and evolved to include painting and sculpture.
Now, the festival has expanded its remit again to include architecture and design as well as art. The most surprising display this year is a prototype of Buckminster Fuller's Fly's Eye Dome, a 15-metre geodesic dome intended as a template for eco-friendly mass housing, which has only been shown once before, in Los Angeles in 1981. One of only a few surviving Fuller domes (smaller versions are owned by the Miami developer Craig Robins and the British architect Norman Foster) it is owned and has been restored by the architecture historian Robert Rubin who will loan it to Toulouse again for the next two editions of its festival in 2014 and 2015.
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