22.07.2019 #art

Nicolas Bourriaud

Intimate Distance

The idea for the MO.CO is to create an institution in the city centre, close to the people

France’s first art space dedicated to showing private and public collections was inaugurated in Montpellier at the end of June. MO.CO Hôtel des Collections is located in Hôtel Montcalm, a 19th-century mansion renovated by the Parisian architects’ agency PCA-Stream. It is the third venue of the MO.CO (Montpellier Contemporain), an institution created and directed by the art critic/curator Nicolas Bourriaud.

The MO.CO also combines the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts fine art school and La Panacée, an exhibition space for emerging artists. The three places form an “ecosystem”, says Bourriaud, that aims to boost Montpellier’s cultural identity. 

Bourriaud’s vision for MO.CO Hôtel des Collections was fulfilled thanks to Montpellier’s mayor, Philippe Saurel, deciding to axe a planned museum on the history of France in Algeria after being elected in 2014. The museum was due to be in Hôtel Montcalm but Saurel, keen to have a contemporary art centre instead, was seduced by Bourriaud’s proposal to exhibit curated perspectives on collections. 

The Hôtel des Collections, with its garden designed by the French artist Bertrand Lavier, is the second independent art centre in France since the inauguration of the Palais de Tokyo, co-founded by Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans in 2002. The two venues differ from the FRAC (regional collections of contemporary art) in that they do not have their own collections. The inaugural exhibition, Intimate Distance. Masterpieces from the Ishikawa Collection, has been curated by the Japanese curator Yuko Hasegawa. It showcases works by artists such as Pierre Huyghe, Haroon Mirza, Rachel Rose, On Kawara, Simon Fujiwara and Motoyuki Shitamichi from Yasuharu Ishikawa’s collection in Okayama, western Japan.

How did your three-pronged project for the MO.CO develop?

I was nominated artistic director of the Panacée at the end of 2015 and arrived in Montpellier in March 2016. I was also asked to make a proposal [for a new art space] in Hôtel Montcalm. But it became obvious that the Panacée and Hôtel Montcalm should be considered together and afterwards I thought of incorporating the fine art school. My first responsibility as the Panacée’s artistic director was to change its digital arts concept, which seemed meaningless in a city where there wasn’t a generalist art centre. The idea for the MO.CO was to have a horizontal structure corresponding to Montpellier’s context and an institution in the city centre, close to the inhabitants. It strikes me as necessary today to create institutions that are not mono-functional. Exhibiting art isn’t enough; one should work on education, transmission of knowledge and proximity between art and artists.

MIKE KELLEY, Arena #11 (Book Bunny), 1990, Book, stuffed animal, 2 spray cans on afghan, Courtesy Galerie Skarrstedt, New York, Ishikawa Foundation, Okayama, © Adagp, Paris, 2019 – Photo : Marc Domage

You’ve described the three-pronged MO.CO as an “ecosystem”. Can you elaborate on the interconnections between the three spaces?

Uniting these three functions in the same establishment creates an artistic chain that goes from education and the transmission of knowledge through to collections via the production of artworks. It’s not about a monoculture but an institution of polyculture that can generate collaborations between art schools, art centres and museums. It’s an instrument for stimulating Montpellier’s art scene. The Panacée is the only art centre in France that has a students’ residency: there are 59 students living there today, of which 26 or 27 are from the ESBA. [The others are from schools abroad.] The aim is not to have more students but the best students. Since last year, students in their second to fifth year work at the Panacée – from setting up exhibitions to participating in curatorial projects – during certain periods. Equally, artists exhibiting at the Panacée and the Hôtel des Collections can do something at the school in the form they choose, be it a workshop, studio visit or conference.

Why did you think of creating MO.CO Hôtel des Collections as a venue dedicated to showcasing collections?

I noticed that there are so many new collectors today. But the majority of works in private collections are not being exhibited outside the collector’s foundation or museum. My idea was to create a platform enabling the public to have access to these hidden works. Also, there was already a museum in Montpellier, the Musée Fabre – a historical museum that includes a contemporary art collection, so it seemed stupid to create a second collection, bearing in mind that considerable means are needed to constitute an interesting collection.

Is there a risk that exhibiting private collections could be seen as elitist?

No, on the contrary. Hôtel Montcalm is going to show that collecting is an act of citizenship, as well as the expression of an obsession, a passion, a vision of the world and a point of view on art. The Hôtel des Collections will seek to emphasize the question of choice, criteria and responsibility regarding artistic creation. This choice is then filtered by a curatorial vision; the combination of the two is very important. We’re seeking out collections that have a singular viewpoint on art onto which the curator’s vision is superposed – this will be the systematic formula for the Hôtel des Collections.

Left: HAROON MIRZA, Backfade_5, (Dancing Queen), 2011, Mixed media, Fondation Ishikawa, Okayama, Courtesy Galerie Lisson, Londres, © Haroon Mirza – Photo : Marc Domage
Right: HUYGHE STONE, Zoodram 4, 2011, Living marine ecosystem, glass tank, filtration system, resin mask of Constantin Brancusi’s ‘Sleeping Muse’ (1910), Ishikawa Foundation, Okayama, Courtesy of the artist, Esther Schipper, Berlin, et Anna Lena Films, Paris, © Pierre Huyghe – Photo : Marc Domage

Why did you choose to present the collection of Yasuharu Ishikawa, a 49-year-old Japanese businessman, curated by Yuko Hasegawa, as the inaugural exhibition?

I discovered the collection’s existence when I was in Japan at the end of 2017 thanks to Yuko. When Yuko sent me the list of works, I saw that there were artists I knew already and works that I knew very well. I’d exhibited Simon Fujiwara’s piece, Rehearsal for a reunion (2011) in the exhibition, L’ange de l’histoire, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 2013. The collection was close to my personal history and sensibilities; perhaps that’s why I chose it as the first exhibition. I’ve known Yuko, who curated the Istanbul Biennial in 2001 and the Moscow Biennale in 2017, for a long time and entrusted her to interpret Ishikawa’s collection. The collection is almost a Japanese eye on international contemporary art, which is what’s unsettling and interesting about it, and this is what Yuko highlights.

What can you tell us about the next exhibition on Andreï Erofeev’s collection of Russian art?

It’s the largest collection of Soviet art from the 1980s and cost nothing at all. All the pieces were donated to Andreï Erofeev, the art historian and curator. He was close to all the artists and constituted the collection imagining it for a contemporary art museum in Moscow. That’s what’s original about it; it’s not an oligarch’s collection. There’s the whole history of Russia’s artistic scene from that era with exceptional pieces by Alexander Melamid, Sots Art, Alexander Bolotov and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The works were found in the storage of Tretyakov Gallery. [Erofeev’s collection was incorporated into Tretyakov Gallery, a museum of Russian art, in 2002. Erofeev became curator of the collection.] I’ve asked Andreï Erofeev to curate the exhibition about the collection that he conceived 20 years ago.

“Intimate Distance. Masterpieces of the Ishikawa collection” is at MO.CO Hôtel des Collections, Montpellier, until 29 September 2019.

Interview: Anna Sansom

Portrait: Jean Picon

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