In the forthcoming second edition of Paris+ par Art Basel, the city of lights will once again play host to a dynamic public program. This program, free and open to all, will be the arena for spectacular exhibitions, monumental installations, and a series of illuminating conferences and debates. The Conversations program this year is particularly noteworthy, curated by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos and Charles Teyssou and held in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou. It promises to be a fascinating exploration into various realms of contemporary cultural discourse, from examining avant-garde pioneers to delving into the interconnectedness of art collecting and fashion, and unfolding the ties between Paris, the Maghreb, and the Caribbean.
Pierre-Alexandre Mateos et Charles Teyssou, curators of the Paris+ par Art Basel Conversations program,
realized in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou
Photography by Marion Berrin for Paris+ par Art Basel. Courtesy of Paris+ par Art Basel.
Interview with Pierre-Alexandre Mateos
Could you share with us the inspiration behind curating this year's Conversations program in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou? What themes or concepts were you aiming to explore?
The 2023 edition of the Paris+ par Art Basel Conversations will be articulated around the links between popular cultures and avant-gardes. We will for example explore the legacy of Walt Disney Studios including its darker aspect and its influence on various generations of artists on the occasion of the company's 100th birthday. Another illustration of this hybrid history between pop culture and art will be the conversation around the heritage of drag and camp on visual and performance art. It will investigate how pastiche, kitsch, and irony have been used as an aesthetic and political strategy.
Another major theme will be the celebration of Francophone avant-gardes. Firstly, the poet, writer, dramaturge and artist Antonin Artaud, who was touched in his flesh and mind by the two World Wars. He defended the production of art forms capable of conveying, through the body of the spectator, the brutality of existence. We wanted to grasp his legacy in the face of the Ukrainian war and the rise of Nationalism throughout Europe in order to highlight the relevance of his work and seize his importance within contemporary practices. Another figure we'll highlight is the late filmmaker Chantal Akerman, whose films linked the intimate with the political in order to approach society’s turmoil in a totally different way than her peers. By examining her influence on contemporary artists and curators, we also wanted to grasp the relevance of her practice in today’s world. While contemporary art is our program's center of gravity, we intend on building bridges between various disciplines by discussing figures that evolve in between worlds.
Finally, if developing a discourse around contemporary practices and how they react to our time is crucial for us, focusing on the artist and the mechanism driving the art world in general is the cornerstone of the program. Hence our first panel discussion, the 'Premiere Artist Talk', which will this year honor British artist Isaac Julien, who will speak about his magistral exhibition at Tate Britain, What Freedom is to Me (2023). Another recurrent format will be 'The Artist and The Collector', which aims to foreground the intellectual complicity between two figures. Finally, '10 things to know about buying art in 2023' will reveal all the dos and don'ts of collecting.
The program delves into the realm of contemporary myths，from the Walt Disney Studios to drag culture. How do you perceive the role of these myths in shaping modern cultural narratives, and how does this tie into the larger theme of the Conversations program?
One way to approach this question is through one of the thinkers we have invited, Norman Klein, and his book The Vatican to Vegas: A History of Special Effects, which traces the history of the interactive, the cinematic and even the digital from Renaissance and early Baroque Italy to the American entertainment industry. The passage from the Church’s walls to the Cathode-ray tube of TVs and then smartphones has transformed what and how myths works. As children that grew up in the 1990s, our first emotions were not in front of a painting, but triggered by Snow White, Jurassic Park, or playing Super Mario 64 on Nintendo. As children, this was our closest encounter with the ideas of fear, adventure, freedom, and all in all just sheer wonder. One can find in the interstices of the entertainment industry complex spaces for experimentation; this is what we are looking at. Art is not solely in museums, galleries, and foundations; we want the Conversations program to be able to convey this idea in order to also touch a greater audience.
In the dynamic landscape of contemporary art and culture, how do you approach curating a program that both reflects current trends and pushes boundaries to offer fresh perspectives to the audience?
We are not very interested in trends. We believe than when ten years from now, someone browses Art Basel Conversation videos on YouTube, this person will hopefully witness something that resonates with their obsessions, hopes, and fears. As persons who have been watching the Art Basel Conversations as art students way before being able to attend the fair, we were amazed by the ability of certain discussions to echo contemporary issues. We try as much as possible to offer the audience not what believe is the latest trend, but what embodies the flesh and bones of our times.
Interview with Charles Teysseou
As this is the second year you've curated the Conversations program, what unique perspectives or new elements can attendees expect compared to last year's edition?
First of all, the Conversations will take place at and be realized in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou, one of the world's most important cultural institutions. As such, several conversations will address the Centre Pompidou history, such as 'Paris-Caribbean', which reactivates the legacy of his first director, Pontus Hultén, and his exhibition series 'Paris-New York' (1977), 'Paris-Berlin' (1978), and 'Paris-Moscow' (1979). On this occasion, the panel will shift its focus from Western capitals to the Caribbean archipelago. Another major novelty will be the inclusion of performances in the Conversations program. At the end of each day, a performance selected by Caroline Ferreira, Head of Manifestations Art et Société at the Centre Pompidou, in collaboration with curators Julie Boukobza, Anya Harrison, and us, will be proposed to the public. The artists featured are Anthea Hamilton, Blackhaine, and Miriam Kongstad.
One of the topics you're exploring is the intersection between art collecting and fashion. How do these two seemingly distinct realms influence and enrich each other, and what insights do you hope attendees will gain from this conversation?
The Art Basel Conversations series draws its richness from its context. From the very beginning, our vision for the program was tied to the Parisian context and it’s the city's heritage. Beyond the cliché vision of Paris and the complexity of the fashion industry, Paris remains without a doubt the capital of fashion. Therefore it was dear to us to establish some relations with this world, which historically has both nurtured the art world and drawn inspiration from it. Comme des Garçons and Cindy Sherman, Martin Margiela’s exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen or Shayne Oliver's foray into performance are just a few example among many collaborations between art and fashion. This conversation will give us an insight on the artistic complicity between two figures who despite evolving in different fields share the same passion, interest, and vision.
Exploring connections between Paris, the Maghreb, and the Caribbean is a fascinating endeavour. What aspects of these diverse cultures do you plan to highlight, and how do you envision these connections contributing to a more inclusive and interconnected global cultural dialogue?
Breaking away from Eurocentric discourses, acknowledging France’s colonial past, and highlighting the exchange between different capitals and regions of the world is a central of mission of the Conversation for Paris+ par Art Basel. One conversation will delve into the history of Moroccan avant-garde magazine Souffles, co-founded by Abdellatif Laabi in 1966 in Rabat, and the various artistic movements that have evolved in between France and North Africa through the work of Bouchra Khalili, who is also a nominee of this year's Marcel Duchamp Prize. Regarding the focus on the Caribbean, we have always shared with the moderator of this conversation, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, as fascination for Caribbean writers such as Maryse Condé or Simone Schwarz-Bart. In return, Caribbean mythologies and culture have also had a significant influence on filmmakers such as Bertrand Bonello or Claire Denis. We wanted to highlight the artists evolving in between Paris and the Caribbean, a region whose chief characteristic is to be everything but static, homogenous or unequivocal. Among the artists that we have invited to participate is the Martinican artist Victor Anicet, who has co-founded the collective Fwomajé in 1984. That collective's aim was, among other things, to draw the contours of a Caribbean aesthetics.