The 4th edition of the YIA -Young International Artists-, including its major “off the premises” (Hors-les-murs) component, opens this fall in Paris, organized in partnership with Culture + Marais and le Carreau du Temple.

This initiative aims at promoting young contemporary creation outside the usual framework of exhibitions held solely in galleries or museums, thus reaching out to a wider audience while revitalizing the historical and cultural heritage of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris. It blends a complex array of public authorities, the private sector, classic and contemporary artists, redistributing roles and responsibilities of cultural actors in what looks like new models of innovative and multi-dimensional ways of displaying artwork.

Back in the twentieth century, an object displayed in a museum became instantly artwork. Today, there is a role reversal: it is the work of art that would somehow legitimize a place, and demonstrate by its very presence that a particular institution or sponsoring company is open to modernity.

The Picasso Museum, the National Archives, the Victor Hugo House or the House of Poetry: all these heritage places and many others, located in the Marais district of Paris, will open their doors during the YIA Hors-Les-Murs and host contemporary artworks in association with galleries or with independent curators. For Isabelle Chatout * curator of the Hors-Les-Murs program, the point is to foster a dialogue between the rich heritage of these institutions and emerging artists, creating impactful synergies between places and works.

Once again, contemporary art is summoned to revive a place, a neighbourhood, a heritage, and seems to work as a social link, at the risk of losing its initial meaning and capacity for dissent.

As part of the heritage sites, art seems to follow a double reintegration process: by opening a dialogue with history, and the history of art in particular, contemporary artists step down from the tradition of breaking from tradition and consider the history of art as a continuum of which they themselves trace back the genealogy.

It is this tenuous conversation that particularly interested Emilie Bouvard*, heritage curator of the Musée Picasso: giving a voice to young artists to untie, in some way, the solitude of the master. For her, it is up to heritage, by means of a fair and responsible policy, to invigorate contemporary art, and not the reverse. According to her, it is natural that heritage institutions be home to contemporary art because the artists are interested to work in such places together with the works of the past, and that has always interested and stimulated them.

During the YIA, the Musée Picasso hosts two contemporary artists, Laurent Fievet and Gabrielle Conilh Beyssac whose works raise issues of aesthetics and plastic art similar to those of Picasso. Fiévet videos refer to Las Meninas by Velasquez and to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, an attitude reminiscent of how Picasso treated the great masters. For his part, Conilh Beyssac explores the relationship between the second and third dimension with a Corten steel sculpture formed from a single curved plate and which can swing. The works dialogue with each other, with the risk of being perceived with a particular bias because of this special situation.

From the moment the work is exposed, it is inevitably conditioned by the space that welcomes it and the key to its perception lies in the distance that can be established between the place and the work. Artists have long sought to escape this context by organizing their own exhibitions. Today, the idea of context seems perfectly integrated: it is from and within this relationship that the presentation as well as the reception of the work are developed.

Raphael Denis * together with Curator Vincent Sator tailor a work around Les Misérables at La Maison Victor Hugo. This is the opportunity for him to develop a work he had previously designed around   literature: the full text is transcribed on paper in a small typographic body, at the limit of readability. For him, the question of the presence of the work, its legitimacy and its weight in La Maison Victor Hugo, is not for the artist to answer but rather for the public and museum staff.

However, this solidarity between the work and the exhibition space can lead to consider the work as a product of a stage-setting, with all the excesses that it implies. The exhibition would then tend to reflect the creation of a curator or a marketing will, and simply cease to be a meeting place between an artwork and a judging public. This reappropriation raises the issue of the guarantee of artistic quality but also of the responsibility of cultural actors in such new situations. In all cases, the artist has – and must have- the last word, as a guarantor of his/her own freedom and own requirements.

The rehabilitation of the former prison St. Anne for the exhibition of the Lambert Collection in Avignon this summer is an excellent example of such contemporary practices going adrift: the works, left to themselves in former prison cells were mostly devalued within such an overwhelming context and in the absence of a unifying concept, which it usually is the curator’s task to provide. This resulted in an “event” exhibition held in the name of contemporary art but, rather, at the expense of the latter.

According to David Rosenberg, it is primarily up to the artists to be vigilant and exercise good judgment. The curator presents three artists as part of Hors Les Murs: Pascal Haudressy at the Musée des Arts & Métiers, Maurice Benayoun with his interactive work Emotions Winds and Chinese artist Miao Xiaochun at the Archives Nationales. For Benayoun, archives are synonyms of shared memories and it is a topic prevalent in his whole work. The work of Miao Xiaochun, especially focusing on a memory work and the heritage of Western culture, is also particularly well placed within this historical site. For Rosenberg, work in a particular context is a calculated risk he takes when engaging in dialogue and consultation with the artist concerned, as well as with officials of the place. A certain type of place attracts some works and vice versa. It is a matter of dialogue, synergy. Sometimes the history of the exhibition begins with a meeting place or a person, sometimes it is a work that triggers the process. In all cases, he shall assume responsibility and wishes above all to stay humble and make generous and inspired proposals.

The imperative of the democratization of art- also a very contemporary preoccupation- comes as a corollary of these initiatives. In the view of Romain Tichit *, founder of the YIA, art should not be restricted to an elite but instead open to a wide audience and thereby convey ​​innovative, constructive and unifying values.

These positions however raise the question of the conditions for a genuine democratization of art: it is well-known that an uninformed public confronted with some works of art in a public place does not necessarily pay attention to it. An accompanying pedagogical approach is required to raise an effective awareness.

As to legitimizing or upgrading places through contemporary art, and given the current tidal flooding of art into public space, Hors-les-Murs questions again the autonomy of art and its reintegration into the social network, even its use in the development of urban public space.

However, and as long as one can think critically, creativity, risk taking and relevant innovations in exhibition spaces will allow the public to rethink public spaces as the preferred spaces for sharing and meeting. The confusion of classical fields and the withdrawal of the State open the field to a constructive dynamism. We are witnessing a multiple decompartmentalisation, a clever way finally to revive our exhibition models and to offer new frameworks in which to rethink the place and role of art.

Caroline Ha Thuc

* Based on interviews conducted by the author in July 2014

YIA Art Fair # 04
Young International Artists
Le Carreau du Temple and Outside the Walls
PARIS, FROM 23 TO 26 October 2014

1-Gabrielle Cornilh de Beyssac, Rocking , Acier Corten. 140×140.x0,4 cm. 2014. Courtesy Galerie Maubert.
2-Raphael Denis, Corps 1, La Recherche du Temps Perdu. Text from Proust is handed as will be the one from Les Misérables.(courtesy Vincent Sator Galerie)
3-Laurent Fievet, Carlotta’s way, 2014. Montage Video 1h 33min. Courtesy of the artist.
4-Maurice Benayoun, Emotion Winds, video interactive, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.