Session 2

Yoann Gourmel

2019/10/13 14:20-14:50
TFAM’s auditorium

Les fleurs américaines

“Once upon a time, there was a history known as the history of modern art…”

The exhibition Les fleurs américaines presented at Le Plateau/Frac Ile-de-France, Paris, in 2012 began like a tale whose leading characters were the various artists, curators, historians, and collectors at the hub of 20th century art, not forgetting works, exhibitions and institutions.

Conceived by Salon de Fleurus, New York, and the Museum of American Art, Berlin, upon an invitation by Elodie Royer and Yoann Gourmel, this exhibition brought together three exhibitions, revisiting the development of the narrative known as the “history of modern art,” from its origins at the beginning of the 20th century to its recognition as a dominant narrative in the 1950s. Its aim was to question the bases and heritage of modern art while at the same time, by way of copies and anonymity, short-circuiting the criteria of artwork originality, uniqueness and authenticity, that still prevail today.

If all the works on view in the show were reproductions, they were not, for all that, seeking to hide their status as copies: their dates of creation were inaccurate and it seemed their producers had in no way tried to repeat the material quality of the originals. What we saw there were not so many individual artworks but series of artifacts organized as stories. These were memories of works playing a special part in what had helped to define the “history of modern art”.

Organized in three distinct chapters, or collections, the exhibition brought together stories told by Gertrude Stein, with her famous Salon de Fleurus, housing the American author’s modern art collection in Paris; Alfred Barr Jr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, with 46 iconic works by European artists dated between 1990 and 2035 and presented on the basis of his hanging plan for the exhibitions Cubism and Abstract Art and Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, both held at the MoMA in 1936; and the MoMA curator Dorothy Miller, with paintings reproducing archival documents and pages from the catalogue of the travelling exhibition 50 Years of Art in the United States, currently regarded among other travelling MoMA projects as a form of cultural propaganda, which contributed to the artistic supremacy of the United States after the 2nd World War.

By juggling with the established categories of the original and the copy, history and fable, signature and anonymity, painting and conceptual art, Les fleurs américaines set in motion the facts and strategies, which helped to define 20th century art. In this sense, it was not an exhibition of modern art, but a contemporary exhibition about the construction of the history of modern art and the way it still defines today’s art criteria.


Yoann Gourmel
Yoann Gourmel is a French curator and writer, working at Palais de Tokyo since 2016. His recent projects include the solo exhibitions of Julien Creuzet (2019), Massinissa Selmani (2018) and Taloi Havini (2017) as well as the large-scale collective exhibitions Another Banana Day for the Dream-Fish (2018) dedicated to the imaginaries of childhood and their influence on the construction of identities, and All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2017) which examined “emotional capitalism” and the impact of the market economy and new technologies on the production of our emotions and their representations.

He is currently co-curator and curatorial coordinator of the 15th Lyon Contemporary Art Biennale entitled Where Water Comes Together with Other Water (September 18, 2019–January 5, 2020), devised as an ecosystem at the intersection of biological, economic and cosmogonic landscapes.

Since 2006, he has regularly collaborated with international institutions, such as the Château de Versailles with Voyage d’Hiver (associate curator, 2017), the CEAAC, Strasbourg, France (guest curator, 2014–2015), Le Plateau / Frac Ile-de-France, Paris (guest curator, 2011–2013), Mercer Union, centre for contemporary art, Toronto, Canada (2012), the GAMeC, Bergamo, Italy (laureate of the 5th Premio Lorenzo Bonaldi per L’Arte for young curators, 2010), Tate Modern, London, Great Britain (festival No Soul For Sale, 2010)

From 2014 to 2016, he has taught history of exhibitions and history of contemporary art at Ecole Supérieure d’Art et Design, Grenoble, France; Ecole Supérieure d’Art et Design, Saint-Etienne, France; and Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art, Dijon, France. In 2011 to 2012, he gave lectures on conceptual art from year 1000 to nowadays at CAPC, Museum of contemporary art, Bordeaux, France. His texts are regularly published in magazines and exhibition catalogues.