Dallas Contemporary | January 17 – March 21, 2015
On the opening night of The Unplayed Notes Museum, Loris Gréaud’s first solo museum show in the United States, guests sauntered around the Dallas Contemporary until a group of people, up to that moment hiding in the crowd, descended upon the art, ripping it from the walls, breaking it into pieces. Sirens blared as the museum staff herded the crowd out of the building. The opening was over, although the bar out in the parking lot kept serving for another hour. The damage was real, but it was not accidental. By installing a museum’s worth of art, destroying it in a semi-official performance—there were some murmurs—and then allowing the public to wander through its ruins, Gréaud sought to create a museum of irresolution, a hazy landscape in which the viewer cannot see every edge from any single point. The three stages were dependent upon, yet autonomous from, each other. Sadly, in the end, the objects and actions within the Dallas Contemporary were left in the shadows of another, brighter immolation.
In the days after the opening, Dallas Observer critic Lauren Smart blasted the show as being “large, pretentious, vapid.” Gréaud responded with a volley of hissy, misogynistic Facebook messages, urging her to read more and to get laid before she attempt to critique his exhibition. Smart presented the screen-captured vitriol in a subsequent blog post, which was picked up by Jezebel, Hyperallergic, Art F City, and others. Then Gréaud claimed that it was all part of his plan to use Smart and other critics as hosts for the virus of language (to paraphrase an idea borrowed from William S. Burroughs) in order to further pulverize his show.
Whether you believe him or not isn’t the point. “I find that doubt is more productive than statement,” he said in an interview with Artinfo. But doubt preoccupies the mind, so I wonder if it is possible, for these few paragraphs, not to accept or deny that Gréaud’s chauvinist remarks were planned (either way, they’re indefensible) nor to spend time pondering them—simply, to enter the physical space of the exhibition. There, one finds the authority of a natural history museum—its carefully organized displays, its claims of objectivity—warped and fractured. There is wall text written in an alphabet that is almost Roman, but with characters toppled over or sprouting new radicals. Similarly, sculptures of mutant deer have grown extra limbs. It is our world, and yet it is not.
By beginning with the natural history museum as an arbiter of enlightenment, Gréaud joins a conversation that last took place in The Encyclopedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale, and before that in the Brain at dOCUMENTA13. However, the will to ruin echoes a much earlier show. In 1970, J.G. Ballard staged an exhibition of crashed cars during which spectators were given copious amounts of wine and began to further mangle the sculptures. By all accounts, Ballard’s was more of a shock. There was broken glass. There was urine. It was unplanned. The desire to both archive and destroy is not the only binary in Gréaud’s bombastic and wily show. Throughout, the objects vacillate between different forms of presence and absence—that which is hidden, as opposed to seen, the gray area between life and death.
Sex and violence work on the big screen, in Hollywood and at the Dallas Contemporary. “The Unplayed Notes” (2012) is a wall-size projection of two porn stars mid-intercourse, but the military-grade thermal camera that captures the bump and grind cancels out any erotic potential. Although it is Gréaud’s most human piece in the show—it’s the only time the viewer sees a complete human form—it is also one of the most distant, less about call girls than Call of Duty.
In the next gallery, the four forms that compose “The Multiplication Tables of Obsessions and Irresolution” (2013) seem washed up from an oil spill. Gréaud has displayed the outside of the molds used to cast the Baroque sculptures one finds at Versailles. All of the opulence and idealization of the human form is buried within these abject shells. The mind slips back to the body—how if the insides of these sculptures look like our outsides, then perhaps the outsides look like our insides. It is a bit humiliating. A bit exciting.
The last room houses “[I] and [I] and [I] Riot” (2014), a grid of cast aluminum hands of the Vietnamese workers who made the sculpture. As they slid their fists into the plaster, they were told to mimic the hand gestures of either a protester or a zombie. The resulting forms are impossible to decode, but that doesn’t stop the viewer from wandering through the thicket of tendons and curled fingers, trying in vain. Wafting above is the piece’s audio component—a recording of director Abel Ferrara reading William S. Burroughs, including the lines “to stay present / to stay absent / to stay present.” The undead is a particularly vital metaphor for this exhibition. In the galleries it is done, wrecked; outside, in the press, it spreads and mutates. Gréaud’s name is on this museum of irresolution, but at times, one wonders how much credit he deserves. For being DOA, The Unplayed Notes Museum has a life of its own.
HUNTER BRAITHWAITE is a writer and the Founding Editor of the Miami Rail. He lives in New York.