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Stranger Than Fiction: Philippe Parreno

Philippe Parreno brings magic to his art.

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WWD Scoop issue 09/29/2008
The feeling by many in the art world is that this is his moment to shine. A sequel to his Zidane film is in the works, as is the completion of a recent performance in Japan, where he collaborated with American ventriloquist Ray Ron Lucas. “It’s a text that I wrote and I start speaking and then Ron starts speaking and in the end, the voices merge and you don’t know exactly who is speaking,” says Parreno, who’s represented by the trendy French gallery Air de Paris, which counts Gillick and Höller as part of its collective.

And he already is thinking of his next project beyond the Guggenheim installation. “I am going to work around another general topic. It will also be a portrait, telling the fiction without telling the lies,” he says enigmatically. “I am not sure if this new project will be a solo project or with Douglas [Gordon], but I will start production in 2009 for 2010.”

The artist, wearing jeans, an untucked shirt and Converse sneakers, is unassuming, leaving his art to do most of the talking for him. Born in Algeria in 1964 of Spanish-French heritage, Parreno was a mathematician before making the transition into art, a not-so-incongruous leap, considering the esteemed Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca was more commonly known as a mathematician in his day and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci was renowned for his scientific and mathematical experiments. Parreno studied at the art school in Grenoble, France, and then at the Palais de Tokyo.

Contemporary art was a late influence for him, and instead he cites TV and cinema as having a major impact on his work. But influence can come from many sources—Parreno also loves the memory-centric novels of W.G. Sebald; the tortured-hero graphic novels of Alan Moore; French film directors Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, and artists ranging from Daniel Buren to Josef Albers to Laurence Weiner.

The breadth of his influences is mirrored in the reach of his means of expression: videos, paintings, installations, manga. His all-encompassing view has worked in his favor since Parreno is one of France’s most successful exports on the contemporary art scene, with his pieces exhibited at galleries such as the Tate in London, the Musée d’art Moderne in Paris and the Guggenheim. A retrospective is planned for next year, beginning at the Kunsthalle in Zurich and traveling to Spain before finishing up in June at The Pompidou Centre in Paris, where Parreno wants to do something site specific. “Each time I do something, it’s new. For the moment, I am doing some drawings,” he says, a multitude of the stencil illustrations neatly hanging in rows on the wall of his studio. The drawings are mingled with text. “I always start work by writing—it’s the transfer of language,” explains Parreno.

Not that the artist transfers much of his own dialogue. Asked to indicate the works that mean the most to him, Parreno replies simply that they’re most recent ones, but then adds, “Even perhaps the next.”
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