France - Interview: Daniel Buren

Buren fills Paris's Grand Palais with colour

Reuters/Benoit Tessier

France’s newly elected President François Hollande attended the opening of the latest Monumenta project at Paris’s Grand Palais on Wednesday. The artist, Daniel Buren, was one of a number of celebrities who backed him during his election campaign. But, talking to RFI, Buren concentrated on art not politics.


Buren’s work Excentrique(s) features a canopy of coloured plastic circles held up by 1,500 black and white posts at approximately the minimum ceiling height allowed in Paris apartments.

It follows British-based artist Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan and is the fifth of the Grand Palais’s Monumenta projects.

Slideshow: Daniel Buren's Excentrique(s)

The setting presents the artist with the challenge of filling a vast space under a belle époque glass and steel ceiling.

“The focus of the project is on the use of light, which here is particularly remarkable,” Buren told RFI’s José Marinho. “Light is something that has interested me for a while. In museums there is a tendency to remove all the windows, so I work on bringing in the light. Here all that is already done, and in a splendid way. Wherever you are, you see nothing besides the sky. And it’s the Parisian sky, which is extraordinary. But in order to see it, one of the most immediate ways, which I’ve used often, is to colour the light

The light in the Grand Palais changes according to the weather.

“If you spend time here, you will see five or six different ways of seeing different colors,” Buren says. “That interests me a lot. Of course, if there is a sunny day or a grey day, the work is different.”

Spotlights sweep across the space after dark.

“At night, it’s a third phase, which is very specific. What we did for the night time, I
encourage you to go and see it, as it’s not the same piece.”

The circular panels were inspired by the building’s curves.

“When we thought about it, with the architect Patrick Bouchin, he brought me a book of Arab architectural drawings from mosques,particularly the Alhambra in Grenada. And there’s a drawing with an extraordinary formula, which allows you to cover the most area possible with five different diameters … once we saw it we said this is a completely new way to deal with this space. So we worked with this design, which allows you to infinitely add these repeated five circles, on any small surface, like on a page, or here, or even bigger.”

Buren has used the components that make up the work before but he says that the space gives them new life.

“All the elements that are here, I’ve used before. And what is happening because of the

A large flag displaying a circle and coloured stripes is flying from the building’s roof. It can be seen from the Elysée presidential palace and the show's organisers made sure that the president-elect had no objection to the view.

In 1977 then-president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing ordered that a flag designed by Buren to fly above the Grand Palais be taken down.

location and how I’ve used it, it’s a space that is completely new and is nothing like what I’ve done before. But you can see plenty of elements that I’ve used before - the play with colour and transparency, I’ve working with that for 40 years. But this configuration, this ensemble, is completely new.”

Buren is best known in France for his columns in Paris's Palais Royal, which excited controversy when they were installed in 1986.

He says that artworks inevitably have a relationship with space, even if that fact is not usually acknowledged.

“I decided a long time ago that my work would emphasise the fact that the site is as important as what is being shown in it. It’s a critique on art in general, which says that the art object is completely autonomous. But I think that no object is autonomous so I show very clearly that what I do is not autonomous and depends, in one way or another on the site, interior or exterior, on the space where it is based and built.”

Sound is also part of the show. Rotating speakers broadcast voices quietly speaking numbers in 37 different languages.

“It was produced using very directional microphones. So if you are in the range of this speaker, you’ll have the sound come to you directly, even if it’s 30 metres away. And as soon as it moves away – because the speakers are moving - then you will want to follow it, if it interests you.”

The work spills over into the museum’s café and bookshop which now have furniture with rounded edges designed by the artist.

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