The Museum of Mistakes: Contemporary Art and Class Struggle presents a set of works made out of reproduced images. Photographs, film extracts, advertisements, postcards, posters, slides, record sleeves, magazines, and other types of mass media are brought together here in the form of unique works. But these works evade solidifiying into fixed forms. Each one is intimately informed by a principle of movement, or, indeed, of reversibility, and they are deployed on mobile, light, or transportable structures. Thanks to its economy of means and the autonomy of its presentation displays, The Museum of Mistakes proposes a new exhibition model that attempts to foil, or “de-class-ify”—to reprise the exhibition’s title—the hierarchies of art.
Conceived by the French artist Pierre Leguillon, this museum brings together works that he has created over the last fifteen years. Their presentation does not unfold chronologically, but is articulated around a central wall 27 meters in length, which in a sense forms the backbone of the exhibition. The wall presents a large number of documents from Leguillon’s collection, which he has arranged in thematic groups specifically conceived for this presentation at WIELS. These arrangements, with their constructivist overtones, tackle subjects also found elsewhere in the museum. One of them, for example, broaches the notion of limit, metaphorically evoked via lobby cards that stage scenes in a bar. Elsewhere, illustrations of sandwich-board men are used to convey themes of autonomy and mobility. This monumental fresco reprises the structure of a town map in which the visitor is free to trace his or her own course.
While the images Leguillon appropriates are diverse in nature, a large number of them are linked to art history—an interest that runs through most of the works around the central wall. This is the case with Diane Arbus: A Printed Retrospective, 1960–1971, with which the museum opens. This retrospective gathers works produced by the New York photographer in the 1960s, presenting them as they were originally disseminated in magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, or The Sunday Times, for whom Arbus carried out reporting assignments. Similarly, Leguillon’s diorama Dubuffet Typographer explores a generally understudied area of the French artist’s work, namely his typographical inventiveness. Likewise, the performative lecture titled Non-Happening After Ad Reinhardt reveals the photographic practice of the American artist (who is better known for his abstract painting) through a select series of slides from the archives of the artist’s estate. Leguillon presents these major artists in The Museum of Mistakes for their artistic work as much as for the reflection they enable on the conditions of art’s production and reception. In Diane Arbus: A Printed Retrospective, 1960–1971, for example, he aims to expose the system of dissemination and commercialization of photography, which today operates by making a limited number of prints for art galleries to sell at inflated prices. In the diorama dedicated to Jean Dubuffet, he attacks a sort of “French monument” about which everything seems a priori to have been already said or written, and inquires into the place of handwriting in an era of growing digitalization of means of dissemination.
Leguillon is a former collaborator of Raymond Hains, who was best known for his décollages of posters and political slogans; he has devoted to Hains two exhibitions and an edited monograph published by the Centre Pompidou (J’ai la mémoire qui planche, 2001). Leguillon drew crucial lessons from Hains, a keen practitioner of détournement, and early on learned not to take the meaning of dominant discourses at face value. Instead, his Museum of Mistakes invites us to use available archives to rewrite history— our history. It is for this reason, moreover, that he uses tools that are within everyone’s reach. One among them is the “home cinema,” which forms the basis of La Promesse de l’écran, a series of film projections that the artist holds on a 4:3 screen, which is raised during the interval and opens onto a bar with a 16:9 aspect ratio. At each screening, La Promesse de l’écran is followed by a subtitle indicating the film’s content, for the most part specifically designed to suit the projection site, and often with the involvement of other artists. La Promesse de l’écran: Manuel de photographie, for example, uses film extracts that introduce us to photographic practice, whereas La Promesse de l’architecture collects filmed sequences undertaken in remarkable architectural structures, or that describe architecture remarkably. At WIELS, a dozen Promesses will be displayed, including an unprecedented one conceived in collaboration with the Belgian artist Sylvie Eyberg.
Begun in 2007, La Promesse de l’écran continues the series of “diaporamas” that Leguillon has presented since 1993, and that mark the beginnings of his artistic practice. The artist’s most recent one, Le Diaporama/Vestiaire, which dates from 2006, will also be presented at WIELS. It is inspired by screenings of slideshows: at home, of holiday photos, and in art history courses. It interrelates images that Leguillon has photographed—often exhibition views—and that are sometimes accompanied by a reading, a performance, or a musical background. With each presentation, Leguillon changes the order, or the selection, of the images, so that each diaporama is unique and the semantic links woven between the slides are in constant fluctuation. This early work attests vividly to Leguillon’s interest in the contextualization of artworks, and of images more broadly, and the ways in which their conditions of appearance influence their reception.
If Leguillon thus sets images free of any predefined meaning—encouraging us to devise our own interpretations, our own stories—he also frees himself from all preestablished identity. As photographer, speaker, collector, bartender, projectionist, or curator, Leguillon adopts all postures without ever confining himself to any one of them. The Museum of Mistakes proposes that we follow his example and redefine our own role within the exhibition. Each person is thus given the opportunity to organize a screening or to engage in dialogue with the artist, who will be present throughout the project and will be able to present his performances according to his discussions with the public. In decompartmentalizing identity, whether it is a matter of the artist’s, the visitor’s, or those of the exhibited images, The Museum of Mistakes invites us to rethink the conditions of the reception of art, here depicted not only as an object but also as one human activity among others. In so doing, Leguillon inquires into the political function of art within society, wherein each individual, being in a perpetual process of emitting and receiving information, has also become a medium.
Pierre Leguillon, born in Nogent-sur-Marne, France, in 1969, lives and works in Brussels. His works, performances, and projections have been the subject of many monographic presentations, notably at Raven Row (London, 2011), Mamco (Geneva, Switzerland, 2010), Moderna Museet (Malmö, Sweden, 2010), the Musée du Louvre (Paris, 2009), and Artists Space (New York, 2009). Recently, the artist presented two installations at the Carnegie International, held in Pittsburgh in 2013: A Vivarium for George E. Ohr and Dubuffet Typographer the latter being accompanied by a book published by (SIC) in Brussels. Leguillon edited the art magazine Sommaire between 1991 and 1996 and has published articles in journals such as Purple (where he had a column called “Calme Plat” from 2002 to 2004), Artpress (for which he edited the special issue “Oublier l’exposition,” 2000), and Le Journal des Arts. A laureate of the Villa Médicis in 2003, Leguillon teaches at HEAD (Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design) in Geneva.
Artist: Pierre Leguillon
Venue: Wiels, Brussels
Exhibition Title: The Museum of Mistakes: Contemporary Art and Class Struggle
Curated by: Devrim Bayar
Date: January 10 – February 22, 2015
Photography: Sven Laurent.
Text (press release) and images, provided by the event.