The exhibition Robert Morris. The Perceiving Body, dedicated to the American sculptor Robert Morris, opened its doors to the public on 1st July. The exhibition was devised by independent curator Jeffrey Weiss, in close collaboration with the artist himself before his death in 2018, and implemented by Alexandre Quoi, associate curator and director of the scientific department at MAMC+.
DAY 1: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
I go down to the space that had previously hosted the exhibition Entrare nell'opera. Works by artists of the Arte Povera movement were removed and the partitions were repainted. The only presence now between the walls of the Museum are massive yellow, red, wooden and transparent crates... most of which had to travel a long way to get to Saint-Étienne.
The crates contain sculptures by American artist Robert Morris.
The atmosphere feels suspended, as though dozing. I sense a dissonance between the ‘cargo’ feeling of the crates and the works they contain.
DAY 2: GHOSTS IN THE MUSEUM
At 10 a.m. the exhibition manager comes to get me in my office for the installation of what he calls the ‘ghosts’. I'm surprised by the term, but it immediately strikes me as poetic. Phantasmagoria, beliefs, stories, and films featuring those spectres come to mind. The idea that works themselves can have their own ghosts really appeals to me. Indeed, works of art are embodied. They are the product of the living and interact with the viewer independently from the artist.
In actual fact, these ‘ghosts’ are to-scale models placed in advance in the space in order to visualise and determine the installation.
At 10:30 the installers make their entrance in the space, using measuring tools and lasers to determine the exact location of the rigging points. Kraft-paper ghosts are displayed on the walls and silhouettes of the works to come float within the exhibition space.
DAY 2 (CONTINUED): DELIVERY
Late afternoon, the exhibition manager comes back to my office. The truck delivery of a major work is arriving way ahead of schedule – expected at 9 p.m., it will actually be here at 5. We go down to the esplanade where part of the MAMC+ crew is already waiting to unload. Shortly thereafter, the transporter appears on the road leading to the Museum. The crates are unloaded and stored in the exhibition spaces.
DAY 4: A MINIATURE EXHIBITION
The next morning I discover a mock-up being built in one of the rooms. Justine, one of the exhibition’s installers, is overseeing its construction.
It's a 3D, 1/4-scale mock-up of the piece that was delivered yesterday, Untitled (Scatter Piece). It consists of 4 partitions and 2 figures and will provide a way to try things out for the upcoming installation. As with the actual artwork, it will gradually take shape in a constellation of shapes, materials and colours.
DAY 4 (CONTINUED): A LIFE-SIZED EXHIBITION
At 3 p.m., the installation of Untitled (Portland Mirrors) begins. Pine beams that arrived this morning are added to the four mirrors placed on day 1 to complete the installation. The crew arranges the wooden structures geometrically, placing them diagonally from the middle of one wall to the middle of the next to form a diamond shape. The installation is muscular and methodical, adhering to a precise set of perspectives.
Subsequently, some of the beams will be switched around to improve aesthetics, and the mirrors will be positioned right down to the millimetre.
DAY 5: ORGANISED CHAOS
Untitled (Scatter Piece) is about to come together in the exhibition space. Installation begins today and will take four days, captured in a 1-minute time-lapse video. The crew of two – Justine and Boris – will refer to the mock-up trials as they arrange the work’s 200 elements to recreate the original.
As work progresses, I notice groupings of materials that are virtually independent from the whole, like abstract compositions.
DAY 5 (CONTINUED): THE GHOSTS HAVE DISAPPEARED
The lightness of the Kraft paper has been replaced by the thick, heavy flesh of the felt. The works no longer seem to float; they are now well and truly grounded by gravity.
DAY 6: THE ‘POOL’
For days now I've been hearing about the ‘pool’. I imagine a watery installation. Actually it's very different. The work is called Untitled. Its nickname comes from its basin shape. The sculpture consists of four large aluminium sheets assembled with large bolts that form iron seams.
In the afternoon, this piece, which is part of the Museum’s permanent collection, will be installed in the lobby.
DAY 8: THE END OF A PHASE
Friday 19 June, all the elements of Untitled (Scatter Piece) are placed, static and immobile. Like a photograph steeped in developer for four days, the process has now stopped. Previously bare metals are now partially concealed by pieces of deep black felt that absorb light and create visual holes throughout.
Last photo before dismantlement of the mock-up.
DAY 10: THE ART ON THE POSTER
This last day has a symbolic quality: partly because it marks the end of nearly two weeks of installation work, and partly because the last sculpture to be installed is the first work I saw of the exhibition. Visitors will most certainly recognise it as the ‘art on the poster’ that can be seen around town, at bus stops, on public transport, and in newspapers and magazines.
The installation of Untitled (Mirrored Cubes) is delicate and precise. Mirrored panels are assembled as cubes facing each other to create a series of infinite reflections and decompositions of the exterior space.
By late morning all the exhibition artworks are in place. Like actors awaiting the raising of the curtain to present a new theatre piece, the works are motionless and perfectly prepared for their public viewing.
But first, there are a few last-minute adjustments to be made...
The next days are devoted to polishing the exhibition. The lighting is exceptionally dimmed to create mystery and a feeling of intimacy. English and French texts are placed on the walls. Associate curator Alexandre Quoi organises visits with the cultural mediation team.
Several weeks later I will learn that the mock-ups, models, and ghosts never left the Museum. They were given a second life as elements for activities with young visitors in the mediation workshop.
SEE YOU SOON AT THE MAMC+
I hope you enjoyed this personal, behind-the-scenes exploration of the installation, and that it piques your interest in the artworks.
Works by Robert Morris: © 2020 The Estate of Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris 2020.