Robert Breer and BigMinis at CAPC – Bordeaux
This autumn the CAPC is to play host to the collection of Floats by American artist Robert Breer. In the nave of the CAPC, the first ever meeting of thirty-odd of these pieces imbue this experience with a quite exceptional intensity.
On the museum’s ground floor gallery, the exhibition BigMinis brings together 182 works by 72 artists. The idea, which originates in the present-day economic state of affairs, unfolds against a backdrop of recession, and questions, in particular, the notion of “fetish of crisis.”
Robert Greer was born in 1926. For some 60 years, he has been building an undisciplined oeuvre whose watchwords are weightlessness, gliding and fluid movements. Associated successively with several French and American avant-garde movements of the 1950s, the artist at first devoted himself to experimental film and abstract painting. In 1965, he attached small wheels to one of his structures, which he placed on the ground. And so there began an epic floor-level journey for Tanks, Rugs and other Floats, showing scant regard along the way for the minimalistic sculpture, plinths and the conventional static aspect of exhibitions.
The Floats – or floating sculptures – that Robert Breer took up producing again at the end of the 1990s, emerged in 1965. The word “float” meaning something floating – a marker, fishing float or buoy – and which also describes those carnival vehicles whose pretend wheels give them the appearance of floating above the tarmac, enabled Robert Breer to apply this principle to works of a new genre. Primary shapes, neutral colours and, for the most recent, an industrial aspect, the Floats were then made with polystyrene, foam, painted plywood, and, more latterly, out of fibreglass. At first glance, these simple structures appear immobile. In fact, they are moving, imperceptibly, within the space they inhabit. Motorised and on mini-rollers – which raise them slightly above ground, giving them an air of weightlessness – they glide unbeknown to the visitor, following random paths that are interrupted by the slightest obstacle that they encounter. Stemming from the autonomy of movement characteristic of Floats, this liberty indicates the presence of a kinetic eye that proliferates the points of view, not so much on the work itself but on what it passes through and into which its colour merges.
Robert Breer’s sculpture is a contemporary of the minimalistic geometric forms that symbolised the 1960s, along with the numerous experiments imbued with the spirit of performance, which appeared within the sphere of influence of John Cage and Merce Cunningham – artists frequented by Robert Breer on his arrival in New York. But during the 1960s, these Floats were not taken seriously. Were they? And would those glib critics of the ascendancy of the minimalistic sculpture of that period have been able to do so?
So it was to be another three decades before they made another appearance, again in New York, with the same energy and relevance, this time in collective exhibitions with artists of another generation.
And, just as they did in the 1960s, the Floats disrupted the measured order of exhibitions, projecting the visitor into a state of utter confusion, unable to tell which it was – out of the works of art, the building or himself – that had really moved. In the nave of the CAPC, the first ever meeting of thirty-odd of these pieces will imbue this experience with a quite exceptional intensity.
Curator: Alexis Vaillant, Chief Curator at the CAPC
Fetishes of crisis
Are the mini and smallness a portent of crisis, or a reflection, a consequence thereof? Might they also be an effective and off-kilter response to THE crisis? With the exhibition BigMinis, the CAPC ís idea is to explore the special fascination wielded by the “scaled-down” object in a period of recession. While miniaturization may conjure up lower costs, less time, and less space, the production of the mini is, for its part, strategic. The mini resists reduction and scaling-down. It exists because of its small size. A cheeky smallness which reveals, in the current economic and cultural context, some of the capitalist pathologies in which the mini originates, and to which it responds. Is the mini a regulatory object?
The exhibition BigMinis brings together works by some 50 contemporary artists, on loan from public collections in France and abroad, private foundations and collections, galleries, and the artists themselves. The idea, which originates in the present-day economic state of affairs, unfolds against a backdrop of recession, and questions, in particular, the notion of “fetishes of crisis.”
It is wrongly thought that in the mini, everything is proportionately scaled down: so the same might apply to the idea behind it, and its impact. Experience shows the opposite, however. The mini endures and marks. It apparently even withstands crisis.
This exhibition is conceived with this in mind. In order to make the idea dialectical and spicy, large works informed by mini-ideas are also on view, thus indicating that the impact of an idea conveyed by an object is not proportionate to the latter’s size. Otherwise put, the large works are far from having a monopoly on “big” ideas and small ideas are not necessarily proportionate to the size of the objects conveying them.
Bearing in mind the maximalist proportions of the CAPC, to which the exhibition makes a partial response, an arrangement had to be invented, with the bigminis not really being exhibited as standards. The new formula gallery on the museum’s ground floor will look like a mental playground. And it will sometimes be necessary to look for the works amid a forest of stands with a post-Tetris look about them.
The minis are not aware of the canons of the day and age. One-off mini-artworks, if they may be so pigeonholed, are as if driven by life. It dœs not matter much if they are beautiful or ugly. Their dimensions and materials, as well as their technical and conceptual prowess makes them enviable and engaging, and stimulating for eye and mind alike. They surprise and impose themselves. Nothing can be taken away from them. Their impact gœs so far
as to arouse the kleptomania dormant in us.
Unlike the “king size,” the mini must be seen up close. It presupposes a focus, whence the grip it has on the sphere of desire. At the same time, the small creates the void around it, because in order to be seen, it needs more space. It thus takes up more
room than its size might have us suppose, whence its capacity to become a fetish. Its relationship with the environment (the city for cars, the exhibition venue for art objects, the pocket for tamagotchis…) and with us thus becomes political.
After incarnating the object boom of the industrialized countries, when the shortening of skirts and compating of vehicles had taken on the dimension of a social phenomenon, creating the vogue for the word “mini” in the West, the compact object is gauged today by the yardstick of the cute (symptomatic, superfluous, polished object), the disquieting (fetichized, serial, cult object) and the resistant (individualistic, Pear to Pear, critical object). We hate to love it and we love to hate it. We want it in secret and without ever having seen it enough. The contemporary mini has sex appeal.
Exhibition Curator: Alexis Vaillant, Chief Curator CAPC, museum of contempoary art, Bordeaux