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Philippe Parreno Unveils His Glowing Gesamtkunstwerk

Installation view, 'Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS' at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)
Installation view, ‘Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS’ at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

When they’re dormant and separate, Philippe Parreno’s works at the Park Avenue Armory are reduced to their crude basics: a set of lightbulbs screwed into a plastic crate, concrete-gray steel bleachers, huge blank screens, empty chairs scattered across the monstrous Wade Thompson Drill Hall. But once a person enters the room — whether it’s a viewer, technician, or Parreno himself — the components of H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS begin to emit strange, disjointed streams of sound, light, and film which flow together, setting off the next few hours of narrative-resistant exhibition experience.

Installation view, 'Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS' at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)
Philippe Parreno sitting behind AnnLee inside ‘H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS’ at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

The press releases states that within the drill hall, we can expect a cacophony of sounds live-streamed from New York streets, a hallucinatory séance-like film of the Astoria Suite where Marilyn Monroe lived in the 1950s, an avenue of 26 flashing marquees lit up in random succession, and, occasionally, the Uzbekistani classical pianist Mikhail Rudy dropping in to perform a few bars of Liszt. Although technically correct, the description falls short of detailing the uncomfortable lapses in between these moments. When the gaze falls away from the objects, it is automatically drawn to the audience members, who are (as Parreno, relational puppetmaster, might have planned) generally zoning out on the slowly rotating bleachers, slumped on chairs and benches, or puzzling around the child actresses impersonating AnnLee, a manga character that Parreno bought with Pierre Huyghe back in 1999. The girls speak to anyone who listens in dreamy, soft voices, asking, “Where are you from?”

H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS is Parreno’s second foray into the exaggeratedly ambitious landscape of Gesamtkunstwerk — previously, he invaded Paris’s Palais de Tokyo with his 2013 show Anywhere, Anywhere Out of This World (curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, also co-curator of the New York installation, with Armory Artistic Director Alex Poots). In Paris, Parreno led spectators through numerous labyrinths featuring videos of self-copyrighted anime characters, surveillance-esque films of soccer star Zinedine Zidane, and ephemeral intangibles like silhouette, light, and sound. In New York, new and older works are placed alongside each other in a loose rectangle, filling the 55,000-square-foot black box (of sorts). The works don’t just play by themselves but respond to one another: as a screen slides up, a marquee flashes on the other side of the room and a minor arpeggio is plunked out on one of the self-playing pianos.

Installation view, 'Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS' at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)
Installation view, ‘Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS’ at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

“My guess is that we have 20 sequences,” Parreno explained to Hyperallergic just a week before the show opened. “And there’s no loop, so it’s really according to what the viewer sees or experiences when they’re walking through. There’s a moment where we bring the live sounds of New York into the Armory through a speaker and so the city actually plays itself. It doesn’t have a beginning or an end.”

'Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS' at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by James Ewing)
Installation view, ‘Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS’ at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by James Ewing) (click to enlarge)

For Parreno, the 26 dazzling marquees in the deliberately darkened hall — together titled “Danny the Street” — act as the framing elements for the show: “These marquees are like mirrors but are also prismatic — they reflects things from the past and from the present or from another present, so you come into a multiverse of hypnosis and of New York.” A cinephile, Parreno is influenced by a wide range of figures in film, from writer and theorist Serge Daney to set designer Jacques Polieri; his penchant for cinematic dramaturgy is prominent in the characters and angles of the five films featured here. The aforementioned “Marilyn” is joined by “Invisibleboy,” which focuses on a young Chinese immigrant haunted by phantasmal creatures, and “The Crowd,” a new film shot within the drill hall space. All three experiment with viewership and dimensionality in different ways: the protagonist in “Invisibleboy” sees monsters not in his live-action world but as floating scribbles atop the actual film stock; the audience in “The Crowd” watches an exhibition just out of the frame, while we, the real audience, watch them.

Installation view, 'Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS' at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by James Ewing)
Installation view, ‘Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS’ at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by James Ewing) (click to enlarge)

As for other live elements, Parreno drops hints about guest appearances other than Rudy and his piano program of Liszt, Ligeti, Ravel, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. “This is something I always like to do, to collaborate,” he says. “The marquees here are like these massive instruments, and I’d like to invite people in to play with that and respond to them, with their own different vibes.”

The effect of all this, Parreno says, will be a heterotopia of experiences and confluent timelines whose layers constantly shift. He allowed himself three days to rehearse the myriad possibilities that could occur before the show opened to the public, and now has left the exhibition to its own devices. This proud detachment is Parreno’s Frankenstein moment — Armory President Rebecca Robertson adds, “It’s like a huge infernal machine down there, even the blinds go up and down” — although it’s clear that a substantial amount of engineering has gone into making things happen by luck or random chance. Even the parenthesis-hijacked title, designed by Parisian duo M/M, seems to allude to a set of matrices. “There is something algorithmic about the show,” Parreno adds. “A paranoiac formula then, sort of like Alice in Wonderland, which was entirely written according to math formulas

Installation view, 'Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS' at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by James Ewing)
Installation view, ‘Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS’ at the Park Avenue Armory (photo by James Ewing)

Filling the Armory’s drill hall is ambitious, even for an artist who for years has argued for “celebrating the exhibition, not just the objects in the exhibition.” Parreno himself is curious to experience the results. “I see this like the perfect square to invent situations or new rituals,” he says. “Usually, in classical periods, we would have a box for everything — to listen to music, to watch films — but the difference here is that all the boxes have melted to bring attention together.”

Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS opens at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) today and continues through August 2.

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