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Philippe Parreno explains the process behind some of his most important works

The French artist behind the Park Avenue Armory’s spectacular new installation discusses the other exhibitions that went into its creation

By Heather Corcoran
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Philippe Parreno’s H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS at the Park Avenue Armory is this summer’s must-see show, and while you don’t have to know a whole lot about his earlier work to fall under its mesmerizing spell, the fact remains that Parreno’s approach is all about how one exhibit relates to another: how they segue one into the next, with old elements (sculpture, video, music) joined by new ones. Parreno wants to us to rethink our preconceived notions of what an exhibition should be—a standalone event with a beginning and end—and to imagine it instead as an evolutionary process where the show itself becomes the work. “I want to go through the journey of my shows,” Parreno says, “and treat each as a studio where I can invent things.” It only makes sense to look back at his prior efforts and get his take on them.

Philippe Parreno, Exhibition view, Philippe Parreno, Anywhere, Anywhere, Out Of The World, Palais de Tokyo, 2013.
Andrea Rossetti

Anywhere, Anywhere Out Of The World, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2013

Palais de Tokyo, Paris gave Parreno carte blanche for his exhibition, "Anywhere, Anywhere Out of the World," where he radically transformed the entire space. Parreno orchestrated the exhibition along the lines of a dramatic composition where the spectral presence of objects, music, lights and films guide and manipulate the visitor’s experience, offering a journey through his works, both old and new, transforming this monologue into a polyphony and turning the building itself into a living, constantly evolving organism.

Philippe Parreno, Exhibition view, Philippe Parreno, Anywhere, Anywhere, Out Of The World, Palais de Tokyo, 2013.
Aurélien Mole

Anywhere, Anywhere Out Of The World, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2013 (2nd view)

“'Anywhere, Anywhere Out Of The World' was like a walk in the garden compared to 'H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS,'" says Parreno. "You go up and down in the installation landscape to explore themes of master and slave. I worked on it for so long, about a year and a half, so I was happy to see it looked better in reality than in the virtual plan!”

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Philippe Parreno, Anywhere Out of the World (AnnLee), 1999
© Philippe Parreno

Anywhere Out of the World (AnnLee), 2000

In 1999, Parreno acquired the copyright for a figure he named AnnLee along with her original image from a Japanese agency, Kworks, which creates computer-generated characters for cartoons, comic strips, advertising and video games as part of Japan’s booming Manga industry.

Philippe Parreno, Anywhere Out of the World (AnnLee), 1999
© Philippe Parreno

Anywhere Out of the World (AnnLee), 2000 (2nd view)

“This piece examines the difficult relationship we have with fiction," says Parreno. "I was in Japan and saw that this company was selling virtual characters, so we bought this girl who had no name. We gave her a name and created a contract with a loophole where the copyright was returned to her. Now nobody can use AnnLee anymore without her permission, except her.”

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Philippe Parreno, Speech Bubbles (Gold), 2009
© Denis Mortell

Speech Bubbles (Gold), 2009

Parreno has created installations using helium balloons for a number of his exhibitions. Intended to recall cartoon speech bubbles, they were inspired by the sort of trade union slogans you might see during a demonstration. Parreno presented them as clouds, empty of words, bumping up against the ceiling. In this form, they suggest a potential dialog that may or may not occur, waiting for the conversation to be filled in by the viewer’s imagination.

Philippe Parreno, Speech Bubbles (Gold), 2009
Stefanie Grätz

Speech Bubbles (Gold), 2009

“There were all of these demonstrations going in Paris at the time I made the work," says Parreno. "Unions protesting against pay cuts, slashes in social spending, etc. So I was thinking about slogans and how movements use them while making these speech bubbles, which were actually devoid of demands or any words for that matter. I created some in black and others in gold, so in that respect, color became the language.”

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Philippe Parreno, Candles (Interior Cartoons), 2012
© The artist. Courtesy Pilar Corrias

Philippe Parreno, Candles (Interior Cartoons), 2012

The works in Philippe Parreno’s "Candles (Interior Cartoons)" are numbered according to Parreno’s age at significant moments in his life. They are celebrating personal memories and events. The works refer to the memory, or celebration, of a year gone by, hence the number of candles. Their exaggerated scale makes them look cartoon-like, which questions our relationship to reality and also alludes to childhood and the passing of time and memories.

“I was wondering why it was that objects are often celebrated, but exhibitions of objects are not," says Parreno. "So it seemed like using birthday candles here would be a good way of addressing that question.”

Philippe Parreno with Douglas Gordon,Still from Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, 2006
Anna Lena Films

Zidane, a 21st century portrait, 2006

In June 2006, Universal released a feature-length documentary directed by Parreno and Scottish artist Douglas Gordon entitled Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, which premiered out of competition at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Using 17 cameras, this unique football film follows legendary French midfielder Zinedine Zidane throughout an entire Real Madrid vs Villarreal match in front of 80,000 fans at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium.

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Philippe Parreno with Douglas Gordon,Still from Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, 2006
Anna Lena Films

Zidane, a 21st century portrait, 2006 (2nd view)

“This is a film I made with Douglas Gordon; it’s a work of friendship," says Parreno. "It was also the first time that I began to question the idea of portraits and portraiture, and that’s shown in this piece.”

Take a virtual tour of Philippe Parreno's spectacle

See the exhibition

Philippe Parreno, H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS

Art Sculpture

French artist Philippe Parreno, one of the leading lights of the neo-conceptualist Relational Aesthetic movement of the late ’90s and early oughts, is known for ephemeral installations that incorporate elements of previous installations in a kind of nesting doll progression meant to focus attention on the idea of the exhibition itself, rather than the individual works of art. The latter, however, include the artist’s signature: A light up theater marquee meant to suggest the idea of the exhibit as a performance instead of a static display.

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