16.01.2024 #art

Daniel Buren

Buren’s Exhibition « Aux Beaux Carrés : travaux in situ » takes over the Bon Marché rive Gauche

« All my work consists of trying to bring out, add or remove certain elements in a given place. »

Internationally known for his vertical stripes, Daniel Buren is the ninth artist invited to have carte blanche at Le Bon Marché. Following Ai Weiwei, Chiharu Shiota and Joana Vasconcelos, the French artist has created an installation in the atrium, two artworks on the second floor and a series of photo-souvenirs in the store’s windows. He has also covered Andrée Putman’s iconic staircase with his signature stripes, on this occasion in black and white.

The exhibition is titled Aux Beaux Carrés: Travaux in situ in homage to the historical squares that Buren discovered on Le Bon Marché’s glass roof. Buren has extrapolated the squares, using them as the basis for his soaring installations in the atrium. Composed of more than one thousand translucent squares, the first work is in white, the second in a glimmering pink. 

In a space on the second floor, Buren has installed two Cabanes éclatées, literally meaning exploded cabins, one in yellow, the other in blue. Here the squares form a checkerboard pattern, the dynamism of which is accentuated by the use of mirrors that lend a sense of infinity.

Supported by Galleria Continua, the exhibition at Le Bon Marché, running until 18th February 2024, is the first act of Buren’s carte blanche. He will also be proposing a second act from 29th June to 15th August 2024.

Born in Boulogne-Billancourt in 1938, Buren emerged as an artist in the mid-1960s when he was briefly a member of the minimalist collective B.M.P.T. along with Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni. Each proponent advocated the use of repetitive and abstract gestures. In Buren’s case, it was vertical stripes inspired by a fabric that he found at the Marché Saint-Pierre, a textiles market in Montmartre.

Over the ensuing decades, Buren’s trademark stripes have become his “visual tool”, guiding the in situ artworks that he creates worldwide. He is best known for his installation Les Deux Plateaux in the court of honour of the Palais Royal. Composed of 260 black-and-white marble cylinders of varying heights, this public commission from 1985 sparked heated controversy before eventually winning over Parisians and tourists.

Why did you accept to make an exhibition for Le Bon Marché and what were the particularities of working at this department store?

Daniel Buren: 
For the last 50 years, my work has taken place in places that have been proposed to me. And all my work consists of trying to bring out and add or subtract certain elements in a given place. A department store is a public place whose activity has nothing to do, a priori, with exhibitions of artworks, whatever those artworks are. The first thing, which is obvious, is that the visual competition is nearly at its maximum, like in the street. If something happens in the street, there’s immediately a sort of simultaneity with completely different elements – advertising, architecture, people… In a department store like this, we aren’t far from that in the sense that the people visiting, apart from a small minority, don’t come to see the exhibition. The majority come to do shopping and might eventually see things that aren’t for sale compared to the rest.

The title of the exhibition evokes the squares of Le Bon Marché’s glass roof. How did you proceed visually?

Daniel Buren: 
The square underlines the whole exhibition. Give or take 1cm, they’re the same measurements everywhere, about 52cm, which is based on the average size of the squares on the glass roof. This square was used a lot in Le Bon Marché’s origin. But when I was invited, I didn’t immediately think of squares, squares, squares! It took a lot longer. But when one finds a common thread, one should keep it.  

The two large works [in the atrium] are made with the architecture. They’re obviously in the middle of this enormous amount of light which explains why I asked a lighting technician-artist, Madjid Hakimi, to see what he could do. We first worked together on the opera Daphnis et Chloé at the Opéra de Bastille in 2014. Then I asked him to do something very special for the exhibition of a rediscovered painting by Caravaggio that was being presented at Kamel Mennour. So this was the the third time [that we collaborated] and what he’s done is remarkable.

The [second-floor] space is like a more banal room because it’s shut off from the store’s traffic. So it enables another type of construction as it’s isolated from all the rest.

How did you decide which colours to use – white and pink for the two works in the atrium, blue and yellow for the two Cabanes éclatées?

Daniel Buren: 
There’s no explanation, I hate giving one! I treat colours like a material and so all colours are possible. Some indications enable putting certain colours and other indications, providing one knows them, preclude putting certain colours. In half a century, I’ve carried out tons of experiments. […] In some places, there are colours that one shouldn’t use if one knows that they have a cultural or emotional relationship with the place where you’re working. If I’m making a work in Japan, I’m careful not to use purple and white because, for the Japanese, they’re a symbol of funerals and I don’t particularly want my work to be seen with those ideas behind it. One can be easily trapped. If you make a work in a city using the colours of the opposing football team, it immediately triggers stupid controversies. 

Colour is the essential reflection in my work. But it’s in relation to where it is, how it plays out, what the conditions are etc. It’s never, I’d say, personal even if I have colours that I prefer to others, like everybody. […] If one imagines transporting the same work to another country, which has happened once or twice in my case, the piece is totally different because it doesn’t have the same rhythm and the colours don’t follow in the same way.

Here at Le Bon Marché, we initially talked about white – half seriously, half jokingly – in the sense that this exhibition is taking place during Le Bon Marché’s white month or white week. One piece [in the atrium] uses white, the other is in pink because pink worked very well with the tests I did. But it could have been sky blue, apple green or black. 

Then [on the second floor], as I knew that I was going to make two works, I wanted to have two complementary colours. As you know, there aren’t many: blue and yellow, red and green or black and white. Very few contrasts have been identified in the range of colours.

You started making the Cabanes éclatées in the 1970s. What role do these exploded cabins represent in your work?

Daniel Buren: 
I started making the cabins in the early 1970s. And this created a sort of possibilities of themes that I’ve used very often since then. Unless I’m mistaken, I’ve never made two the same. They’re always in different materials, colours, forms, sizes, places, outdoors or indoors or in a museum, permanent or non-permanent etc. It indicates specific things each time. What interested me in the cabins – and here’s a good example – is that it’s the idea of a corpus in the centre of a space. If the space is square, it’s in the middle of a square, otherwise it’s in the middle of a rectangle or a circle. Everything that’s cut out of the cabin is projected onto the first wall that one encounters. The interior space is therefore slightly disrupted because there’s also an exterior. Here, the effect is augmented because the piece is entirely covered in mirrors. So one is really inside a kind of real explosion that, I’d say, isn’t illusory but infinite thanks to the mirrors […].

What can you tell us about the second act of your exhibition taking place this summer?

Daniel Buren:
For that, you’ll have to come back!


Interview by Anna Samson

Photo credits © DB-ADAGP Paris 



More Interviews
See all