Art Above The Fragrance Counters?
Jan 27 2016
I must admit, I was curious about the Ai Weiwei installation at Paris' Le Bon Marche but I had my doubts. Can serious, culturally relevant art co-exist with fragrance samples? Would the art of commerce overshadow or even cheapen the artist's message?
Turns out the Ai Weiwei installation has a quiet elegance to it on the surface but remains every bit a caustic commentary on China's human rights failings. The massive mythological creatures suspended from the rafters over the store's famous atrium are captivating, their bamboo frame and white silk construction echoing the building's architecture details. Inspired by traditional Chinese children’s tales, they are unknown to several generations of Chinese as they were banned under China's strict censorship laws. The smaller installations in the store windows facing the street have an autobiographical element to them and reference Ai Weiwei's well-publicized political struggles with his government over surveillance and censorship.
While Le Bon Marche has housed temporary art exhibits in the past, they were usually consigned to a small exhibition space located in the basement. This time, some of the store's most valuable real estate has been turned over to the dissident Chinese artist including all of the windows fronting the rue de Sevres. In retail terms, that's not nothing.
A cynic might argue that all of this is just a clever ploy to increase foot traffic and sell the store's pricy wares. They would be at least partially correct as the exhibit was reportedly commissioned to promote the store's annual “White Sale.” But does it really matter if it also offers people the opportunity to get acquainted with the work of an influential contemporary artist. Not everyone has the opportunity to frequent galleries and museums. Besides, there are far easier, cheaper ways to advertise a sale.
I actually enjoyed the exhibit tremendously (especially the smaller works exhibited in the windows). Then again, I personally don't think art belongs exclusively between the sterile white walls of museums. If it takes a "White Sale" to bring Ai Weiwei and his unique point of view to the masses, so be it.
The Luxe Chronicles