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Geoffrey Farmer Takes Pride of Place at the Louvre

The Louvre, Paris, September 24, 2015, to January 4, 2016

At the Louvre, the future remains a work in progress.

More than a year of construction to make the claustrophobic foyer under I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid more visitor-friendly still leaves everyone looking desperately for the toilets and not the Mona Lisa. Bladder-challenged tourists are directed to a private, pay-for-pee lavatory with only a few cramped stalls in a remote corner of the new Louvre mall near Rue Rivoli. For not quite $2 (1.50 Euros) you get the ambience of a cushy men’s club complete with male attendants in form-fitting black.

But why not a private pissoir for one of the world’s most-public art galleries? The piddly nature of such stark profiteering contrasted with the utopian promises found everywhere in the Louvre galleries is one of the historical contradictions addressed in “A Brief History of the Future,” the feisty, fabulously eclectic contemporary exhibition curated by the Louvre’s Dominique de Font-Réaulx and Jean de Loisy, president of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Their work is based on the similarly titled 2006 book by Jacques Attali, the 70-something French economist and exhibition advisor. But their narrative begins in the exhibition rotunda with the brash theatricality of Boneyard (2013–15) by Geoffrey Farmer, Vancouver’s scissor king whose recent successes—including a mid-career retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery and work at Toronto’s Luminato Festival—suggest a career in warp-drive mode.

Boneyard consists of some 813 photographic reproductions of historical sculpture faultlessly snipped out of disused art monographs. With juxtapositions at once brainy, funny and audacious, Farmer suggests these clippings should be seen as sculptural theatre. Tiny fetishistic animal figures cavort at the feet of 30-centimetre high cutouts of craggy faced gods and kings. The title itself is decidedly cheeky considering all the exterior wood splints needed to prop the images up. But the title increases the awareness of an enormous silence surrounding what appears to be cocktail party for forgotten graven images. And there is a dynamism here. It’s as if these figures are chess pieces straining against their immobility.

The entire show boasts more than its share of art stars. They range from the expected, such as Auguste Rodin, Ai Weiwei and the Congo’s Chéri Samba, to the not-so expected, such as the Pinton Frères, whose 1951 tapestry from their Aubusson atelier is based on Fernand Léger’s Les Constructeurs à l’aloès. I spent time in front of Dutch artist Mark Manders’s anthropologically inflected sculpture—rough wood chunks sandwiched together, a bone-like piece fashioned from porcelain—which draws out an inexplicable weightlessness from the rough materiality of pieces such as Dry Clay Head.

Farmer’s work builds on curator de Loisy’s belief that art history is only one of art’s many possible narratives. Boneyard happily, if artfully, ignores chronology’s demands. Propped up in a circling-within-circles formation (as is typical with Farmer, the piece has grown exponentially since its 2013 debut at Toronto’s Mercer Union), Boneyard brims with triumphant juxtapositions impossible in history, but quite possible in his hands. A trio of music makers from entirely different centuries and cultures are placed together like a band beginning a jubilant tour. It is the perfect portent of things to come in the rest of the show.

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