Monster Movement

Alain Quemin on “Dynamo: a Century of Light and Motion in Art, 1913-2013” at the Grand Palais, Paris, until 22 July


For the first time, the Grand Palais has dedicated all of its exhibition space—around 3,700 sq. m on two levels—to this show of works by nearly 150 artists. The result is worthy of the means. The subtitle of the exhibition, “A Century of Light and Movement in Art, 1913-2013”, explains the perspective adopted by the organisers. A fundamentally historic stance is maintained throughout, whereas a lighter, more whimsical approach could also have suited the nature of many of the works on show. “Dynamo” succeeds in two of its aims to draw the biggest possible audience and clearly to articulate the carefully chosen works and their relevance to the overall theme. It is fortunate that aiming for a large attendance has not lowered the intellectual standard. Although it is not indicated by its title, the exhibition deals solely with abstract art (and the exhibition is one of the largest ever organised in the world about this form of art), even though the themes of light and movement could have also been illustrated by figurative works. The exhibition acts as a pendent to the landmark exhibition, also organised by Serge Lemoine, the main curator of “Dynamo”, “At the Origins of Abstraction, 1800-1914” at the Musée d'Orsay (2003) that ended at where this exhibition begins. Visitors should be prepared for some vertiginous and eye-popping effects: Carson Höller’s Light Corner, 2001, composed of light bulbs blinking in an unbearable way, is the first thing one sees on entering.

The visitor who expects artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez and Julio Le Parc will not be disappointed, as the big names in optic and kinetic art are well represented. Even the famous Labyrinth by G.R.A.V. (Groupe de recherché d’art visuel), created in 1963 for the Paris Biennale, has been reconstructed. The breadth of the exhibition is established by the first work opening the show, an assembly of vertical white neon lights, Voltes III, 2004, by John M. Armleder, which, by switching on and off, give a striking impression of movement. Anish Kapoor dominates the second room with a group of three concave sculptures, where the tones of the reflective surfaces vary from black to burgundy via aubergine or navy. His Islamic Mirror, 2008, further on, is just as remarkable. François Morellet presents several pieces of very high quality, of which the most fascinating is Triple X Neonly, 2012, made of several planes of fine white neon tubes which, in their criss-crossing, appear to be curved. One must move around the work to appreciate all of its geometry and subtlety. Ann Veronica Janssens is represented by Daylight Blue, Skyblue Medium, Yellow, 2011 in which the visitor enters a dense paraffin smoke, a disorienting experience of immersion in yellow and blue. This was for me the highlight of the visit.

Although such works as these are easily the most striking and remarkable, one must commend the curators for having assigned a significant place to painting. Although he is not always given a fair viewing, no doubt because of his many clichéd late works, Victor Vasarely is well represented here. Three works of Bridget Riley’s are on show, among them the magnificent Fall, 1963.

There are few omissions, but one is Olafur Eliasson, whose work deserves inclusion. One would also have appreciated a view of Lucio Fontana. His ceiling lights of white neon tubes winding around themselves in scrolls inspired numerous artists shown included in the show, many of whom pay explicit homage to him.

It is more than appropriate that this exhibition should take place in Paris where optical and kinetic art emerged and that the city should now be able to return the compliment with such a wide-ranging show.

Published Wed, 26 Jun 2013 15:45:00 GMT

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