Command Performance

Pierre Huyghe Acts Up at the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires

Parisian artist Pierre Huyghe enjoys toying with his audience’s sense of reality, his immersive installations traversing the blurry line between fact and fantasy. In the past he has transformed exhibition spaces with smoky lightshows (L’Expedition Scintillante, 2002), staged an Antarctic voyage in Central Park (A Journey That Wasn’t, 2006) and filled the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House with a tropical rainforest (A Forest of Lines, 2008). But for his latest project at the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires in Paris, he has perverted the very notion of exhibition, populating the formerly shuttered space with a troupe of actors masquerading as museum staff. Over the course of three “episodes” (the first on October 31, 2009, the second this February and the finale on May 1, 2010), the actors go about their fictional business, periodically interrupted by other performers. Some, disguised with surreal light masks, launch into scripted scenes, while others—magicians, hypnotists and model Audrey Marnay among them—improvise on the spot. Huyghe embarked on the project after becoming enchanted with the museum’s dormant building during a visit to the adjacent LVMH Foundation space at Paris’s Jardin d’Acclimatization. He compares the piece to the works of Frederick Wiseman, whose documentaries including High SchoolBallet and Housing Project quietly infiltrate the hidden corridors of private institutions. “Usually when an artist is invited to show at a museum, they end up having to play with only the exhibition rooms,” Huyghe says. “Here I was able to play with the whole entity––with the director and where the guards have their lunch in the basement.” Huyghe’s video documentation of all three events will be edited into a film in which animated characters are superimposed on the footage, transforming scenes where actors talk to empty space into surreal conversations. Says Huyghe: “I’m trying to invent a new medium where you don’t know if it’s a film or it’s a live performance. It’s more like a science fiction.” 

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