— Florence Bonnefous

This text was initialy published in Circles, Individuelle Sozialisation und Netwerkarbeit in der zeit- genössischen Kunst Austellungstellung Reihe, Christoph Keller (ed.) (Éditions revolver, 2002).

I assumed that the initial question, which happens to be off-text, was the identification of Parisian/French scenes by extension. Or perhaps the specification of a French scene… ? I rather agree with Alison when she describes the notion of “scene” as speculative: In the field of visual arts, successive scenes that have suddenly found themselves in the spotlight have been so for obviously strategic and mercantile reasons, prompted by the strongholds of the market—primarily New York and London—to then feed on what is “foreign” (the Scandinavian scene, for instance), by using a similar modus operandi (drastic cuts and selection of a dozen artists/producers). This sham mainly helps strengthen the implicit domination of the aforementioned, and acts as a way of confusing the issue. And France is next in line. If the question is “Why is France only vaguely identified as a fertile artistic scene abroad, i.e., in London, New York, Berlin or Milan?,” then the discussion should essentially be concerned with diffusion structures and where the money comes from, whether from institutional, private, public or liberal sources… from the 1950s onward. And in order to do so, we would need to call on Raymonde Moulin.[1]Now for the narrow vision: A scene requires one or several venues. A scene mainly consists in its wings, which are places where people meet and bond with one another. Where centers converge and fluctuate. Concerning Air de Paris, for instance, there is a venue: Before it was created, it was originally the Magasin in Grenoble, where I met Édouard [Merino], to whom I then introduced Éric Troncy, who was already a friend of mine, and who consequently met Nicolas Bourriaud, who was a friend of Édouard’s. Then all of us met Philippe Parreno, Pierre Joseph, Bernard Joisten, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and Philippe Perrin. It’s interesting to remember these artists not as starlets from Grenoble, but for the whole body of collaborative work they put together, which was a very unusual and innovative model in regards to the common conception of an artist’s collective, and consequently not so easy to achieve in those days[2]—and fairly rare. So something was going on in Grenoble at the time, with two hubs: the art school and the art center, which also housed a school. We then moved to Nice to open the gallery, and our choice was clearly to get closer to the sun and seaside, far away from Paris. Far from the center of it all. At the time, we spent a while looking for a bunker—a real one—that we wanted to renovate and live in, but we didn’t find one, so the gallery ended up being a little less isolated than planned. First ricochet: Parreno, Joseph, and Perrin moved to Nice at the same time as us, and new ties were created with a second art center and a school, the Villa Arson. “Les Ateliers du Paradise” was our first exhibition, and was rather programmatic in its genres: artist collaborations, relationship between art and decoration, use value of the work of art (in a venue fitted out like an apartment), interactions between different disciplines (psychoanalysis, cooking, sports… fashion was yet to come!), exhibitions within the exhibition, show time/free time, games and role playing …Liam Gillick turned up unexpectedly and ended up staying… And then, after Grenoble, there were those from Nice!: Verna, Dellsperger, Serralongue, Magnin, Lesueur, Blazy, Ramette, Mayaux, Art Concept… Troncy also came to live in Nice for a few months, after which he organized “No Man’s Time.” These were two years (late 1989 to late 1991) and two venues in which many encounters would develop into work collaborations and friendships that have lasted to this day, between artists, gallery owners, art critics, curators, institute directors… In fact, this is probably “easier” in provincial France, because we are more isolated (especially in the winter!), thus generating a need to gather together, and because there are fewer bars and clubs, it’s the same old song with the same old people every night and every morning with a hangover… We clearly left Nice because of the market, but we maintained the same rather casual work method, based on real connections between people, which made it a whole lot more enjoyable… We might want to avoid my cancer, my Jaguar… All this to say that a scene can probably be operated just like a product (YBA), but also be born quite spontaneously and crystallize around a few hubs, which happen to be more scattered in Paris. In our case, it is now much harder to “take part” in several scenes at once, to do more than just attending openings. There is definitely a time problem, but it seems to me that the way Glassbox[3]functions, although its budget might be primarily institutional (I don’t really know, I’m just guessing), represents a genuine example of a “cool” scene—one that exists for itself, instead of trying to meet an external necessity, whether institutional justification or aggressive capitalization. At least I hope so! With Toasting,[4]too, we see bonds between people—something real—but what initially appears as a wish for dismissal presumably weakens the way we might perceive it from the “outside.” We should rent the Sushi Bar full time for a year, for instance: It would be interesting to have a group of people whose work is usually seen in art venues, but whose workplace would be a nightclub…We’re up for being roommates…!

Translated from French by Lucy Pons
  1. [1] French art historian who is particularly interested in the sociology of art and the contemporary art market.
  2. [2] Huyghe came from a different group (“Les Ripolin,” with Closky), and would only start develop- ing connections with these artists much later on (well, not that long, but on the scale of a decade, it wouldn’t happen until the second half!).
  3. [3] Independant artists run space founded in 1997 in Paris.
  4. [4] Toasting Agency, independant curatorial and publishing collective created by Eva Svennung and Alexis Vaillant in 1998.