View on Monaco from the Villa Paloma, photo- Jeanne Graff

For many, the south of France becomes a site of passage each summer, featuring a fabulous landscape, several motley cities, and a history rich in sojourning personalities– Man Ray, Diaghilev, de Chirico and Moholy-Nagy– all of which were once so many contexts for artistic creation. Today, the south is often considered with a nostalgia which is tinctured by its flamboyant past. Hyères, Nice, Saint-Paul de Vence, Arles. Marseille and Monaco. Urban poetry and chaos vs. upper class ghetto.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Tela nicchia, 1987 – Paul Thek, Untitled, 1996 – Jean Tinguely, Rotozaza I, 1967 – Christo, Empaquetage, 1959 – Gabriel Orozco, DS, 1993 – Robert Rauschenberg 1/2 gals, AAPCO, 1971 

César, Le Pouce, 1967 - Raymond Hains, Pochette d’allumettes, 1971, photo Jeanne Graff

The museum of contemporary art in Marseille– the MAC– possess a magnificent and little known collection. The state of the museum itself, which manages to function with very limited funds, and which is a bit rundown, makes for an unexpected visit. The collection can be seen as a reflection of the city, a patchwork of successive layers from differing epochs, replete with a very present sense of nature, whose more or less chaotic end result is of a rare and captivating beauty. These different layers are visible in the way the collection has been assembled. The works have been collected principally by the directors who have succeeded one another and whose tasks were complicated by the succession of varying political powers. Thus the different waves and more or less positive attempts that have animated the city of Marseille these past three decades can be seen in this collection of work, that which, incidentally, constitutes an extremely rich and interesting history, although largely unknown. Such a reflection between the collection and the city invests the objects on view with a certain eloquence. Visions, attempts, failures, fragments and accidents whose chaotic conjunction is full of life.

César, Le Pouce, 1967  – Chris Burden, The Twist, 2004 – Gordon Matta-Clark, Chinatown Voyeur, 1971 – Franz West, Kleine Lemure, 2001 – Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970 – Jean-Michel Basquiat, King of the Zulu, 1985 

Piece from the series Vingt Mille Lieues sous les Mers by Bernard Buffet, Photo Josef Hannibal

The museum and its garden which was built in the 70s and renovated for the installation of the MAC at the beginning of the 90s, offers an ideal context for walking around. It can be visited in a single jaunt, as if the interior and the exterior were seamlessly joined. Built on a single level, the museum and its marble floor reflects the sunlight which comes from the skylights, thus rendering it reminiscent of walking around Dia: Beacon. The museum itself is an open space, more or less void of rooms, but nevertheless spatially articulated by separating walls, which become a form of punctuation that allow the visitor to progressively discover the exhibited works, by giving them enough space, while nevertheless being able to take in everything at once.

Jean Tinguely, Rotozaza I, 1967, photo Josef Hannibal

Joep Van Lieshout, Study Skull, 1996 – Dieter Roth, Fernquartett, 1970 – 1980 – Raymond Hains, Pochette d’allumettes, 1971 – Absalon, Cellule habitable n°4, 1992 – Peter Halley, Rem, 1995 – Jimmie Durham, A Stone Asleep in Bed at Home, 2000

It always a bit strange to find oneself in Monaco. The unique example of a genre of ghetto, one circulates via tunnel or elevator. As is often the case in the south of France, the museum is located in a Villa, that which, at least in Monaco, constitutes a kind of curiosity, given that the majority of the villas have been replaced by high rises condominiums. And this particularity offers both a very expansive view on the city itself and a kind of distance which underlines the strangeness of its history as a principality. This over all sense of eccentricity could be said to extend to the collection used by Mark Dion, featuring everything from shell encrusted dolls most likely borrowed from local attics to costumes originally used for Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet. The first part of the exhibition of this two part exhibition takes place at the Musée Océanographique of Monaco– founded by Albert the First, a great adventurer and pioneer of marine biology– which, since 1910 has provided visitors with an opportunity to see an entire underwater world. The bulk of this first part consists of an immense cabinet of curiosities, consisting of aquatic scenarios and objects from the museum’s collection, which Dion has assembled in the monumental central hall of the museum. Meanwhile, a selection of Dion’s own works, which are also on exhibit here, have been subtly and discreetly integrated into the collection, to the point of eliminating any sense of hierarchy between his work and that of the museum. The exhibition at the Villa Paloma, which is the seat of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, welcomes the visitor on the ground floor with a maquette of Calypso, Jacques Cousteau’s famous sea-faring vessel. Continuing on, one encounters the strange and wonderful series of Bernard Buffet’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1989), a Jean Painlevé photo of a seahorse, and a sculpture by Ashley Bickterton, among many other things. Playing on the border of kitsch, unconventional artifacts and heterogeneity, Oceanomania is constructed like a novel, which is full of unexpected twists and turns.

Ashley Bickerton



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