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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Ysabelle Cheung

Ysabelle Cheung is a writer and editor based in Hong Kong. Her arts writing can found in ArtAsiaPacific, ArtReview, Artforum and Hyperallergic. You can follow her at @ysabellecheung...

4 replies on “Philippe Parreno Unveils His Glowing Gesamtkunstwerk”


    When the circus comes to town, we are accustomed to a certain
    hierarchy of presentation. First there is the sideshow, often
    an allee lined with various attractions that are transitory
    and ephemeral: small, spicy, tender morsels that serve to whet
    our appetite for the main course, where the real business of
    the circus — marching elephants, dancing bears, lion tamers,
    jugglers, tightrope walkers, aerial acts, the flying trapeze
    and such — gets done under the Big Top.

    In his H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS installation at the Park Avenue
    Armory, Philippe Parreno gets stuck in the sideshow mode,
    which seems to be less his failing than his governing
    aesthetic strategy, as he orchestrates a slew of disconnected,
    evanescent, state-of-the-artworld stimuli along an allee that
    he has whimsically named “Danny The Street”. In no particular
    order, the attractions include films (both previously made and
    newly commissioned), grand pianos (some with an exalted
    classical repertoire performed by a virtuoso, while others are
    robotic player pianos responding to signals from the street
    with pre-programmed musical segments), banks of light bulbs
    morphed into marquee-like configurations, and roaming “wise
    children” declaiming through the crowd (if the latter seems a
    familiar art trope, that’s because it’s in collaboration with
    Tino Sehgal).

    The lights dim and brighten, the marquees buzz, the films turn
    on and off, the music surges and stops, the bleachers
    constructed at the terminus of Danny the Street rotate to
    accommodate different views of the action. The entire Drill
    Hall hums and pulses like the metabolism of a living,
    breathing organism. Which is all well and good, as far as it
    goes. And yes, this gee and gaw does play into a generational
    penchant for challenging the parameters of the institution,
    for not delivering the closure that might be expected in an
    artwork, for eschewing the One Big Piece or One Big Idea in
    favor of a transitory, multifarious, pulsating field of
    meaning — a generational orientation limited not just to
    Parreno, but common to other 50-somethings like Pierre Huyghe,
    Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Liam Gillick, Douglas Gordon,
    Rirkrit Tiravanija. At this point in contemporary art
    discourse, we all know how the relational can be
    aestheticized, how the transitory and the aleatoric can be
    apotheosized. Yadda yadda yadda.

    Still, a Big Top situation like the Armory (and the Bigger Top
    of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, where Parreno mounted an
    earlier and even larger installation in the ilk of H{N)Y P
    N(Y}OSIS) might call for a more singular focus, a more unitary
    vision, some beast of Gesamtkunstwerk that is calm rather than
    busy and scattered, less dystopic, more thorough than impish.
    Parreno is admittedly a gifted practitioner, and knows his
    Baudrillard backwards and forwards. One wonders whether, in
    this age of behemoth arts institutions, with their
    metastasizing self importance, their will to power and
    prestige, their elephantine budgets, their entitled bands of
    roving curators and consultants, their mandarin
    administrators, their prissy press agents, fund raising
    functionaries and corporate shills — whether in this
    disconcerting climate of art as industry, anything other than
    Parreno’s magpie eye, his version of Total Spectacle, however
    ironically intended and theory tinged, is even possible.

    (c) 2015 Steven Kaplan

  2. P.S. As to why Parreno calls it “Danny the Street”, this would seem to be
    homage to famous Anglo Irish female impersonator Danny La Rue. Or it
    might be a pun on May 1968 student radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit, known as
    Dany le Rouge.

      1. Thanks. Bona to vada.

        And now for something completely different.

        Parreno’s Marquees

        I’ve been advised that Parreno’s marquee pieces deserve further discussion. They are, certainly, the dominant visual element of the H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS installation at the Park Avenue Armory, marking the outline of Danny the Street and providing much of the illumination in the Drill Hall. The films and musical interludes might alternate, turning on and off in random sequence, but the marquees abide like sentinels or referees, providing strict framing of the playing field, defining the rules of the game.

        Parreno has been making these light sculptures for close to a decade. One was mounted over the Fifth Avenue entrance of the Guggenheim Museum in 2008 for “theanyspacewhatever” exhibition. Beyond any metaphorical resonance, they seem to have a signature iconography in his work as abstracted signposts, announcing that we are in the presence of spectacle, of theater and performance and artifice. They signify “attraction” as a Platonic ideal, removed from the practical considerations of “Coming Attractions” in show biz advertising, where marquees function as billboards on cinemas, theaters and concert halls.

        There is something nostalgic about their appearance, perhaps because they are composed of individual bulbs rather than an oceanic wash of high tech lighting. They allude to the rich vernacular of popular entertainment, the era of music halls, vaudeville and burlesque houses, or classic cinema, of which Parreno is purportedly a fan. In terms of art historical precedent, the boxy minimalism of the marquees suggests a conflation of Judd and Flavin. Their multi-bulb infiltration of the darkness recalls Christian Boltanski. Their grid-like framing of space reminds us of Erwin Redl’s architectural interventions.

        Like Annlee, the prototype of a cartoon character that Parreno and Pierre Huyghe purchased from a Japanese manga studio in 1999 and then repurposed as an art object, the marquees are a commercial usage divorced from their original context. They are, in fact, the inverse of Annlee, since she began as a tabula rasa, a digital file without even a name, and accrued content, nuance and meaning with each new art project. Whereas the marquees have been assiduously stripped of their usual commercial specificity, and doubly so: first the removal of text, then the absence of any structural underpinning. Parreno’s marquees appear to float in the vast space of the Armory, a ghostly presence detached from the facade, the walls and other architectural elements. They are unmoored, set adrift, and this allows them to register as LCDs, paradigms, loose signs.

        The 26 marquees in H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS are possibly the largest assembly, ever, of this aspect of Parreno’s oeuvre, suggesting a gang, a squad, or perhaps — in a nod to signs that have been set adrift — a band of Rōnin, those unaffiliated samurai without a master to serve. They have left their feudal fiefs, the collections and galleries, the museums and kunsthallen, to gather in the baronial vastness of the Armory. As per the legend of the 47 Rōnin, are they assembled to demonstrate against cruel injustice, to honor the code of bushido with an orgy of blood and revenge and then a mass ritual of disembowelment? Or are they here, instead, to participate in an equally arcane ritual, although well known throughout the contemporary art world these past several decades: relational aesthetics?

        (c) 2015 Steven Kaplan

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