PARIS — Daniel Buren caused a scandal when he installed 260 striped columns in the courtyard of the Palais-Royal in 1986. Imagine what his detractors will say when they get wind of the artist’s latest project: covering the glass roof of the reception rooms at France’s presidential palace in panels of blue, white and red.
French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled the artwork at the Élysée Palace on Monday in front of art world heavyweights including Jean-Paul Claverie, adviser to Bernard Arnault and one of the key forces behind the Fondation Louis Vuitton; Guillaume Houzé, president of Lafayette Anticipations, the art foundation backed by Groupe Galeries Lafayette, and gallerist Kamel Mennour, among others.
Macron said the work, a “flight of fancy,” was symbolic of the new spirit of freedom blowing over the country, more than three months after the reopening of museums, theaters and cinemas following an extended closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“At a time when life is returning, this work of art reflects a willingness not only to make the Élysée a place for contemporary creativity, but to ask you all to share in the spirit of daring, of freedom and of reinvention of our country, because I believe that is fundamentally the role of artists,” Macron said.
It comes as the city is buzzing about the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe for a posthumous installation by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and the opening of several major exhibitions, including “The Morozov Collection. Icons of Modern Art” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Titled “Pavoisé,” a reference to putting up bunting and flags, Buren’s work is due to be unveiled to the public during the European Heritage Days on Sept. 18 and 19, and will remain on show at least until February 2022.
The artist, who was introduced to Macron by designer Ora Ito, added a wall of mirrors to the back of the winter garden, which together with the adjoining ballroom and Napoleon III room was renovated in 2019 by interior architect Isabelle Stanislas, under the supervision of First Lady Brigitte Macron, to give it a more airy, contemporary feel.
The multicolored panels, inspired by the French national flag, create a kaleidoscope of colorful light beams in the reception space. Buren has left a blank space between each tricolor section in order to give a glimpse of the sky beyond the glass roof.
“It’s probably the first time and the last time I’ll be using the colors of the French flag,” he said. “I was a little hesitant, because I’m not really fond of playing with recognizable symbols, but I thought, if I don’t do it here, I’ll never do it.…This is the heart of the French Republic.”
Still, don’t count on him to feel too reverent about disrupting the corridors of power. “I don’t care whether I work in a bathroom or a historical monument,” he said. “I’m not being cynical, but to me, this place is the same as any other I’ve been invited to work in.”
Among the guests were filmmaker Farida Khelfa, Numero founder and editor in chief Babeth Djian, Just an Idea founder Sarah Andelman, Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot and her predecessor Jack Lang, who greenlighted Buren’s Columns in the Palais-Royal in the 1980s.
The artist said he does not relish the controversy caused by his works. “I don’t set out to provoke that kind of reaction, especially when it’s very negative,” he said. But he doesn’t want to be considered an official artist either. “Anytime someone uses that term, it has a negative connotation,” he remarked.
Rather, Buren hopes his works merge into the landscape, to the point of becoming indistinguishable from their surroundings, as has become the case with the Palais-Royal installation almost 40 years later.
“These works can’t be transferred anywhere else, so if they remain in place for a long time, they end up blending with the place. If they stay a short period, they will have a more temporary effect, but in both cases, I think something interesting happens between the work and the location, which become inseparable,” he said.
Buren said he hoped that “Pavoisé” would remain in place indefinitely, though he is aware that next year’s presidential elections could usher in a new tenant. “I can imagine that if the president is not reelected, there is a chance the next one will get rid of it,” he said.