French artist Daniel Buren brings Like Child’s Play’ to Carriageworks

Stephen Todd
The Australian Financial Review

French artist Daniel Buren brings Like Child’s Play’ to Carriageworks

Like Child's Play is made up of 100 giant building blocks arranged over 600 square metres.
Like Child’s Play is made up of 100 giant build­ing blocks arranged over 600 square metres. Sup­plied
Every piece I’ve done since the very begin­ning of my career has been based on the idea of a game, of what could there­fore be called plea­sure,” says French artist Daniel Buren, whose mas­sive Like Child’s Play instal­la­tion is unveiled at Syd­ney’s Car­riage­works this week­end. But I don’t always like to evoke the word plea­sure’ when talk­ing about my work because, while I def­i­nite­ly get plea­sure out of mak­ing it, that’s not to say peo­ple look­ing at it derive the same enjoy­ment,” he laughs.

Still imp­ish at 80, Buren is the eter­nal provo­ca­teur. Since the mid-1960s, when he began past­ing posters com­posed of repet­i­tive stripes (white and one colour) on bill­boards and in Metro stops across Paris, he has wil­ful­ly toyed with the art estab­lish­ment – even as he became one of its most impor­tant players.

Like Child’s Play is inspired by the rudi­men­ta­ry build­ing blocks devised by the 18th-cen­tu­ry edu­ca­tion­al the­o­rist – and inven­tor of the kinder­garten – Friedrich Fro­bel. The super-sized instal­la­tion of cubes, cylin­ders, arch­es and wedges is an adven­ture play­ground of sol­id geome­tries, designed to incite our inner child. 
Daniel Buren at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in 2016.
Daniel Buren at the Fon­da­tion Louis Vuit­ton in 2016. Fon­da­tion Louis Vuitton/​Mar­tin Argyroglo
There is no age lim­it on the desire to manip­u­late sim­ple objects,” he says. The draw­ings and paint­ings chil­dren cre­ate, things we call sim­plis­tic are, au con­traire, extreme­ly savant.” 

Rad­i­cal era

Buren is a child of the rad­i­cal French stu­dent era, grad­u­at­ing from art school in 1960. Paris, he remem­bers, had lost its glo­ry after the Sec­ond World War and was still fight­ing a colo­nial war in Alge­ria, which most of the stu­dents were protest­ing against. What’s more, Paris had also lost its posi­tion as the cen­tre of the art world. It was run by a bunch of cronies who over­saw the salon sys­tem, and there was only one mod­ern art muse­um.” (The City of Paris Muse­um of Mod­ern Art was inau­gu­rat­ed in 1961.) The city was noth­ing like it is today. It was mori­bund. I was deter­mined to, as soon as I could, form an asso­ci­a­tion with some like-mind­ed artists against a sys­tem which no longer worked.”

In 1966 Buren aligned with Olivi­er Mos­set, Michel Par­men­tier and Neile Toroni under the ban­ner of BMPT, each adopt­ing a reduced, read­i­ly repro­ducible motif – the sin­gle-for­mat cir­cle, the repet­i­tive, trun­cat­ed brush stroke – which would become their trade­mark, as anony­mous as it was recognisable.

The artist and his installation 'Les Deux Plateaux' (or the Buren columns), in the courtyard of the Palais Royal, Paris, ...
The artist and his instal­la­tion Les Deux Plateaux’ (or the Buren columns), in the court­yard of the Palais Roy­al, Paris, in 1986. Sup­plied
Buren became known as the stripe guy”, repeat­ing uni­form bands pre­cise­ly 8.7 cen­time­tres wide on posters, can­vas­es and, even­tu­al­ly, in alter­nat­ing black and white mar­ble on 260 columns of vary­ing height in the court­yard of the 17th-cen­tu­ry Palais Roy­al, oppo­site the Lou­vre, in 1986. Com­mis­sioned by the Mit­ter­rand social­ist gov­ern­ment, Les Deux Plateaux (or, as it’s more com­mon­ly known, the Buren Columns) was intend­ed to sym­bol­ise a new era in French cul­tur­al ascen­dance. Placed strate­gi­cal­ly out­side the first-floor win­dows of the Min­istry of Cul­ture, it became the sub­ject of fiery polit­i­cal debate – and Buren a fig­ure of inter­na­tion­al repute, good or bad, depend­ing on one’s view of pol­i­tics, and art.

Daniel is one of the few liv­ing artists who has invent­ed a whole lan­guage that many oth­er artists use with­out even know­ing it,” says art deal­er Anna Schwartz who, hav­ing closed her gallery space at Car­riage­works in 2015, has com­mit­ted to a five-year exhi­bi­tion pro­gram for the for­mer Eveleigh Rail Yards build­ing. He’s so fun­da­men­tal to cur­rent think­ing and art prac­tice, I’d thought for some time how mar­vel­lous it would be to show his work at grand scale.”

Artists’ con­tri­bu­tions

Buren covering a Paris billboard in stripes in 1969.
Buren cov­er­ing a Paris bill­board in stripes in 1969. Sup­plied
Like Child’s Play fea­tures 100 giant build­ing blocks over some 600 square metres, with some stacked vol­umes almost six metres high. Car­riage­works cura­tor Lisa Hav­i­lah, who works close­ly with Schwartz on the inter­na­tion­al visu­al arts pro­gram, says their focus is on artists who have made a real con­tri­bu­tion to the form, and who can work with­in the con­text of Car­riage­works spaces that are not tra­di­tion­al white box gal­leries. We like to cre­ate instal­la­tions that com­plete­ly con­sume the view­er.”

Last sum­mer’s mon­u­men­tal spray-paint­ed drap­ery by Ger­man artist Katha­ri­na Grosse attract­ed 100,000 visitors.

Buren, whose large-scale works fig­ure in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tions of the Paris Muse­um of Mod­ern Art, the Tate Mod­ern and the Guggen­heim Bil­bao, is expect­ed to draw big­ger crowds. 
His installation 'Excentrique(s)' filled the Belle Epoque Grand Palais with coloured light in 2012.
His instal­la­tion Excentrique(s)’ filled the Belle Epoque Grand Palais with coloured light in 2012. Alamy
The Car­riage­works space is cav­ernous, indus­tri­al, evoca­tive of its 19th-cen­tu­ry func­tion,” says Buren, who vis­it­ed the site ear­li­er this year. It will serve as a sort of arma­ture for the work.” Like his for­est of hor­i­zon­tal, coloured glass discs that inhab­it­ed the Belle Epoque Grand Palais in 2012, or the six-storey high striped pan­el that draped the atri­um of the Guggen­heim in New York in 2005, or the mul­ti­coloured fil­ters he stuck to the glass sails of Frank Gehry’s Fon­da­tion Louis Vuit­ton in Paris two years ago, Like Child’s Play will be a chance to expe­ri­ence a very sin­gu­lar art­work by one of the world’s great­est liv­ing artists. or those who want to dis­miss it as, quite lit­er­al­ly, child’s play, Buren has a ready response. For years now we’ve heard peo­ple who don’t like or don’t under­stand a work say, Oh, my three-year-old could have done that’. But it’s an error to think that because some­thing can be done with appar­ent ease there’s not enor­mous com­plex­i­ty involved.”

Need To Know

The glass sails of the Fondation Louis Vuitton covered by Buren.
The glass sails of the Fon­da­tion Louis Vuit­ton cov­ered by Buren. Sup­plied
  • Like Child’s Play by Daniel Buren is on at Car­riage­works from July 7 to August 12 at 245 Wil­son Street, Eveleigh. Buren will intro­duce his instal­la­tion at 11am on Sat­ur­day, July 7. Free admis­sion (reg­is­tra­tion required at car​riage​works​.com​.au)
Arti­cle link: here

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