Monumenta exhibit goes minimalist

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“Wow. That’s the moment I only understood it, when the sunlight came through the ceiling and hit the disks and shone of the floor: that’s the beautiful part with colors everywhere, when everything came together perfectly,” said Nina Aelbers, 27.

Others could only describe their reaction to the work in metaphor: one viewer at a loss for words, Roberta Prevost, called the second roof a “shimmering rug or multicolored tapestry.”

Art critic Joost de Geest summed it up best: “Buren’s art is never immediately accessible, visible. You need to stroll around to feel it. The colored circles are very light, joyous, agreeable, but you need to discover them first. Imagine this _ you can walk comfortably around the Grand Palais for the first time! I like that it’s on a small scale.”

The small size was intentional.

“I’ve often worked in very different projects, different sizes. Some are empty, some are full, some are deconstructed. Here, again, the fundamental heart of the work was to make the work accessible and personal… I made the ceiling this low, so it would be just about the height of a person, human size. It’s to re-appropriate the building for everyone,” Buren said.

As part of plan to democratize the space, Buren also sealed up the main entrance of the Palais, and in the process visually censored its huge doors and sweeping stairs.

“Oh yes, that’s the first thing I did, when I started thinking how to make this space more personal. I blocked off that entrance that doesn’t work, and it doesn’t need and opened up the smaller side doors at the north and south… I want the volume of air in the Grand Palais to speak by itself. That’s exactly the idea.”

Not everyone, however, was convinced by the installation’s size, and perceived lack of grandeur, such as Jonathan Hoenig, who’d seen last year’s Kapoor exhibit: “When I first saw it was underwhelming. It’s Monumenta _ and of course I expected something bigger, more impressive from someone like Buren. Last year, Kapoor really filled the space, he was better.”

It’s not the first time criticism has been fielded at Buren, who has previous examples in his 40-year career of sparsely endowing vast expanses.

His most famous permanent work in situ at Paris’ Palais-Royal, triggered a national outcry in the 1980s during the two years of its creation.

Filling the entire courtyard of the famous 17th century palace, a stone’s throw from the Louvre museum, Buren installed dozens of short black and white columns (again, with his signature stripes), with some standing no taller than stumps.

Critics said Buren had defaced national heritage.

In the ensuing outrage, the fencing around the construction site was covered in graffiti and there were even threats to destroy Buren’s work.

It caused a halt to the project, which was eventually completed in 1986.

Twenty five years on, and the columns have since gone on to become a sort of national treasure, the marble stumps now affectionately called “The Buren Columns.”

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