Hettie Judah Art Review Essay

The Galeries Lafayette already has an exhibition space devoted to art, contemporary fashion and design: the Galerie des Galeries, which opened in the store in 2001. Mr. Houzé, 36, an established collector cherished by commercial galleries around the Marais, said his passion for art drew him to engage more deeply. “In 2011, I convinced my family to further our commitment and to imagine creating a foundation, but actually I had no idea about what we would do,” he recalled. “Paris has a lot of institutions and foundations.”

There is indeed plenty of competition for the art-loving public’s attention. Alongside public institutions like the Pompidou Center and Palais de Tokyo, the city is served by the Cartier Foundation, the Ricard Foundation, and the recently opened Louis Vuitton Foundation and Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation. Next year, the luxury magnate François Pinault will open a private museum to showcase his art collection in the central Bourse de Commerce, which sits midway between the Pompidou Center and the Louvre.

What Mr. Houzé hopes will set Lafayette Anticipations apart will be its provisions for production, with exchanges of ideas across disciplines and the ability to fabricate artworks and spectacles on a massive scale, for exhibition both on and off site. Ahead of the building’s completion, well-equipped workshops in the basement were already up and running, assisting in projects destined for the Tate, the New Museum in New York, the Kunsthalle Basel and the Pompidou Center.

In English, Rue du Plâtre, the location of the new art space, translates as “plaster street.” Lafayette Anticipations has brought the plaster workers back to one of the most architecturally protected areas of Paris, and with them carpenters, metalworkers, programmers, dressmakers and all else that an artist might need to realize an ambitious work.

Mr. Koolhaas’s involvement started in late 2011, when Ms. Finders joined Mr. Koolhaas’s firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. She continued her conversations with Mr. Houzé and his team, helping them delve further into the connections between Galeries Lafayette and the Paris art world, not just in terms of patronage and investment but in episodes of historical coincidence. “The department store was born at the same time as the art salon, and the new urban development of Paris,” Ms. Finders said.

The following year, Galeries Lafayette invited the Office for Metropolitan Architecture and its research arm to mount a historical exhibition in the Galerie des Galeries. Together with a team in the Koolhaas firm that included the architect Clément Périssé, Ms. Finders dug into the archives on the ninth floor of the Boulevard Haussmann building. Exploring the family’s history was a process Mr. Périssé called “a sort of mutual psychoanalysis” between the architects and the Galeries Lafayette group. For Ms. Finders, it was a means, too, of divining how accommodating Mr. Houzé and his group might be to radical propositions: “We needed to know what they could tolerate: What was their breaking point.”

Besides Galeries Lafayette’s innovations in retail, what stood out in Mr. Périssé and Ms. Finders’ study was the store’s long heritage of production, from apparel making through contemporary design. This tradition of creating and commissioning became foundational to the art space’s identity: The name Lafayette Anticipations was chosen to suggest the start of a process and expectations of things to come.

THE GOAL to be a nimble platform for creation has been given rather literal physical form in Mr. Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s design. A glass box with four movable segments of flooring on vertical tracks now occupies a former courtyard space. These provide adaptable space at the core.

The movable parts offer 49 possible configurations to accommodate a range of projects. “Since it’s not about a collection, you couldn’t be precise” about what would be exhibited and how, Mr. Koolhaas said. “Performance, ballet, theater, music, concerts, digital, video, film: Already, those are extremely diverse and can sometimes have opposite demands. We have to accommodate all of those.”

This is not the Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s first building with a central elevating platform. In 1998, it unveiled the audacious Maison Bordeaux, a home created for a client in a wheelchair. More radical, perhaps, is the discretion of this project: The architect’s intervention is not visible from the street. Mr. Koolhaas, whose firm is responsible for memorable landmarks like the looping CCTV headquarters in Beijing, said there is now a “total excess in terms of visibility of architecture.”

Rather than plan more attention-grabbing buildings, he suggested that architecture insinuate itself into the fabric of a city. Mr. Koolhaas rejects the idea that Paris’s status as a living museum stultifies innovation. “I, myself, would have maybe represented that idea even 10 or 12 years ago,” he conceded. Today, the notion that architectural preservation necessarily causes creative stagnation is, he said, “simply a lack of ambition: a lack of understanding of what you can do within preservation.”

“So, for me, preservation became a very interesting field,” he continued, suggesting a new urban paradigm in which architects leave the existing architectural language of the street intact and reimagine those portions that are out of sight. “I think it’s also, in a certain way, an interesting, new, metropolitan style,” he said, “old outside but super fresh, new, inside.”

The Marais is already home to several buildings that hide contemporary glass boxes behind Haussmannian facades. Many, like the Marian Goodman Gallery, are adapted to accommodate contemporary artworks that grow ever larger, in turn, to fill the outsize exhibition spaces of modern museums and galleries.

The hulklike growth is part of a phenomenon Mr. Koolhaas himself once called the “Tate effect,” referring to the vast Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London. While he might not acknowledge it as such, one could view Lafayette Anticipations’ production facility as, in part, an architect and a collector’s solution to an architect- and collector-generated problem: a way to help artists tasked with filling enormous gallery spaces beyond the practical scope of an individual.

LAFAYETTE ANTICIPATIONS itself is of relatively modest dimensions, with 9,400 square feet of exhibition space — less than a quarter of the Louis Vuitton Foundation’s. It reflects Mr. Houzé’s positioning of his institution “on the side” of Paris’s new art ecosystem. Unlike the huge crowds that attend the Palais de Tokyo openings, Lafayette looks to keep its audiences small and focused.

Asked how he might judge success, if not by audience size, Lafayette Anticipations’ managing director, François Quintin, suggested it might come from the liberated quality that emerges when commercial imperatives are removed.

In Paris, as in London and New York, the cost of living puts pressure on artists to create work that can be sold. Rising rents have driven artist-run spaces out of the city center and fomented the closing of smaller independent galleries. Lafayette Anticipations “was not conceived to be an alternative, but of course it is,” Mr. Quintin said. “Sometimes we are able to produce things that neither galleries nor museums are able or wanted to produce.”

Working with three associate curators in programming the art space, among them Charles Aubin of Performa in New York, Mr. Quintin is setting his sights on the international as well as the local scene. The only common criterion that he seeks in artists to work with is “intelligence”: bright minds for a bright new space.

It’s too soon to say what the impact will be on the Paris scene. Perhaps for this reason, Lafayette Anticipations’ future has been left open: Only two shows have been scheduled, including the opening exhibition, a site-specific installation by the New York artist Lutz Bacher.

“I have an image of where the foundation could be in 25 years,” Mr. Quintin said, smiling. “But I have no idea of what we’re going to do in two.”

Correction: March 2, 2018

An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Lafayette Anticipations’ managing director. He is François Quintin, not Quentin.

Correction: March 7, 2018

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Lafayette Anticipations as the architect Rem Koolhaas’s first project to be realized in Paris. It is his first building project, but he also collaborated on interior designs for the Repossi store in 2016 and Le Dauphin restaurant in 2010.

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William Morris averred that only those who were of ‘an unhealthy state of mind, and probably of body also’ would wish to leave their walls bare, but equally suggested that to be surrounded entirely by magnificent, intellectually exercising artworks would end up making one callous to their effects. The great beardspiration, and champion of vernacular architecture’s 1881 essay 'Some Hints on Pattern-Designing' thus made one of the first sales pitches on record for the use of wallpaper (though since it also mentions in passing that ‘it is with healthy and sane people only that art has dealings’ there’s a slim possibility that the text might originally have been intended as a comedy routine.)

Artist wallpaper, then, is a tricksy notion – if it’s great art, then by Morris’s rationale, it will likely make for lousy wallpaper, but if it’s good wallpaper then its origins lie in ‘lesser’ (rather than ‘worse’) art. Perhaps with that in mind, artists engaging in wallpaper projects tend to aim for head-melting effect rather than beautification. If the Dude’s rug really tied the room together, this is wallpaper that rips the room apart.

Sarah Lucas, Tits in Space, 2009. wallpaper, limited edition of 185. © Sarah Lucas. Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Sarah Lucas’s instant-custard-toned pavilion walls in Venice hinted more at the interior of the kind of institution that might serve said custard (with a very blunt spoon) than any kind of safe and comforting domestic environment. Ditto the 14- piece MDF and breezeblock furniture range that the artist launched with her gallery Sadie Coles last April, which exuded all the domestic goddessery of a blinking neon striplight. Lest you need reminding that the fag-encrusted female form is no recent preoccupation of Lucas’s, following the cigarette-laced recta (smokin' hot asses?) on view in Venice, feast your eyes on the artist’s evocatively titled Tits in Space wallpaper, originally produced for an exhibition at the Whitworth in Manchester in 2000, then editioned for the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2009. This is surely the ideal wallcovering for a teenage boy’s bedroom, liable to complicate any urges they have toward smoking or sex for years to come.

Ai Weiwei, Finger, Maharam Serpentine Galleries Wallpaper Collection

Rather more in tune with teenage tastes is Ai Weiwei’s Finger (2015) in which the Chinese artist/ architect/ alternative beardspiration raises aloft his famed middle digit and saves us the bother of spinning on it by arranging the disembodied bird-flipping arms in mandalas of quite un-Buddhist sentiment. For proper effect the pattern probably should have been printed on transparent window vinyls, thusly cutting all views down to size in echo of the artist’s Study of Perspective series (1995–2003). This particular one-fingered salute relates more directly to the Marble Arm (2007) sculpture shown by Galerie Urs Meile at the ART HK fair in 2011 during the artist’s 80-day incarceration in a police detention centre: an ‘up yours’ with feeling, then.

Ai’s Finger is issued as part of a wallpaper collection for the Serpentine Gallery in London, which also includes minimal gesture patterns by Rosemarie Trockel (grids of squares or circles) and nose/popcorn, potato/lightbulb-paring patterns from John Baldessari. This is the second collection produced for the gallery by the US textile firm Maharam, which has also sired its own collection of artist wallcoverings under the label Maharam Digital Projects. Rather than patterns in the traditional sense, the series takes advantage of contemporary printing technologies that allow light-stable full-colour images to be spooled out at vast scale: no more pesky repeats, no more colour limitations, begone silly little strips of paper- most of these designs kick off at 3 x 5m. Making the most of this is Jacob Hashimoto, who’s The Long Passage Toward Night (2012) is a ten-metre-long print – effectively a trompe l’oeil – showing one of the artist’s paper kite installations at full size, assembled from 64 separate photographs and with a starting price of $7,500. The series continues in August with new designs by Sarah Sze – Frog and Crane, which suggests the creases left on paper after unfolding the titular origami models – and Teresita Fernández, who reprises the flock formations of the swarming graphite-nugget installation Sfumato (Epic) (2015) shown this spring in the exhibition As Above So Below at MASS MoCA.

Lacking a 10-metre wall to cover in facsimiles of large institutional artworks? Concerned that the one-wall-of-wallpaper thing is all a bit last-decade (as the famous magazine strapline runs, wallpaper is ‘the stuff that surrounds you’, not ‘the stuff that you feel a little uncertain about and relegate to a feature wall’)?


Jérôme Poret Wall of Sound, 2014

If you really want to push that boxed-in feeling to the limit Jérôme Poret’s Wall of Sound (2014) design for Wallpapers by Artists playfully extends the sonically-focussed artist’s use of the exhibition space as resonance chamber by redecorating your living room to resemble the facades of a giant speaker. Just the thing for when standing with your head pressed to the speaker stack at Donnington doesn’t feel immersive enough anymore, or for inducing paranoia in guests using the ‘smallest room in the house’.

Timorous Beasties, Kaleido Splatt wallpaper. © and Courtesy Timorous Beasties

Subversive as all of this sounds, most of these artist wallpapers don’t have a patch on the more outré output of Timorous Beasties, the Glasgow-based fabric and wallpaper practice whose designs have included images of dogs licking puddles of blood, men pissing on trees, an MRI scan of a human brain and a junkie shooting up on a park bench. Recent wallpapers include Urban Chaos (£220/ roll, made to order) in which the delicate lace-like pattern is constructed from silhouettes of BMX riders, skateboarders and street furniture, and the repeating 10 x 5m pattern Indie Wood (£350/ roll, made to order). Kaleido Splatt (£99/ roll), launched at ICFF in New York earlier this month, continues their exploration of the pattern-forming potential of paints and pigments as they ‘misbehave’. Splatting, dribbling, smearing, repeating, bleeding down wet paper, and mirrored into patterns they form Rorschach-blotlike forms that somehow echo the floral motifs of a classic damask. 

Online exclusive published 28 May 2015

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