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Reflections on H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS, Philippe Parreno's installation at the Park Avenue Armory, June 10, 2015

When the circus comes to town, we are accustomed to a certain hierarchy of presentation. First there is the sideshow, often an allee lined with various attractions that are transitory and ephemeral: small, spicy, tender morsels that serve to whet our appetite for the main course, where the real business of the circus -- marching elephants, dancing bears, lion tamers, jugglers, tightrope walkers, aerial acts, the flying trapeze and such -- gets done under the Big Top.

In his H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS installation at the Park Avenue Armory, Philippe Parreno gets stuck in the sideshow mode, which seems to be less his failing than his governing aesthetic strategy, as he orchestrates a slew of disconnected, evanescent, state-of-the-artworld stimuli along an allee that he has whimsically named "Danny The Street". In no particular order, the attractions include films (both previously made and newly commissioned), grand pianos (some with an exalted classical repertoire performed by a virtuoso, while others are robotic player pianos responding to signals from the street with pre-programmed musical segments), banks of light bulbs morphed into marquee-like configurations, and roaming "wise children" declaiming through the crowd (if the latter seems a familiar art trope, that's because it's in collaboration with Tino Sehgal).

The lights dim and brighten, the marquees buzz, the films turn on and off, the music surges and stops, the bleachers constructed at the terminus of Danny the Street rotate to accommodate different views of the action. The entire Drill Hall hums and pulses like the metabolism of a living, breathing organism. Which is all well and good, as far as it goes. And yes, this gee and gaw does play into a generational penchant for challenging the parameters of the institution, for not delivering the closure that might be expected in an artwork, for eschewing the One Big Piece or One Big Idea in favor of a transitory, multifarious, pulsating field of meaning -- a generational orientation limited not just to Parreno, but common to other 50-somethings like Pierre Huyghe, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Liam Gillick, Douglas Gordon, Rirkrit Tiravanija. At this point in contemporary art discourse, we all know how the relational can be aestheticized, how the transitory and the aleatoric can be apotheosized. Yadda yadda yadda.

Still, a Big Top situation like the Armory (and the Bigger Top of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, where Parreno mounted an earlier and even larger installation in the ilk of H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS) might call for a more singular focus, a more unitary vision, some beast of Gesamtkunstwerk that is calm rather than busy and scattered, less dystopic, more thorough than impish. Parreno is admittedly a gifted practitioner, and knows his Baudrillard backwards and forwards. One wonders whether, in this age of behemoth arts institutions, with their metastasizing self importance, their will to power and prestige, their elephantine budgets, their entitled bands of roving curators and consultants, their mandarin administrators, their prissy press agents, fund raising functionaries and corporate shills -- whether in this disconcerting climate of art as industry, anything other than Parreno's magpie eye, his version of Total Spectacle, however ironically intended and theory tinged, is even possible.

(c) 2015 Steven Kaplan

Danny the Street

As to why Parreno calls it "Danny the Street", this would seem to be homage to famous Anglo Irish female impersonator Danny La Rue. Or it might be a pun on May 1968 student radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit, known as Dany le Rouge.

But actually, there is a character in DC Comics called Danny the Street.