Demand therefore bases the museum's opening exhibition in a very particular Monaco and makes reference to the short-lived magazine produced by Magritte in postcard form (there were fourteen postcards in the original The Postcard of Nature series). The contrast between art and landscape is obviously and cleverly accentuated. This choice may not eliminate the doubts on art being used worldwide as a postcard for elite tourism but it does allow one of the loveliest sites on the Côte d'Azure, Villa Paloma, to shine once more, precisely because in the unlikely surroundings of Monaco, with well-picked works. Highlighting contradictions and utopias, these can be read as a metaphor of the presence of art in times such as ours. Works by Magritte himself and Luigi Ghirri, chosen as a tutelary deity for his constantly farsighted and intelligent photographic variations on the image of the postcard (55 works, some of which never previously shown), stand out alongside others by Martin Boyce, Kudice Affutu, Becky Beasley, Robert Mallet-Stevens and more. Magritte's clouds (in La Malédiction) dialogue, for example, with Anne Holtrop's island (Floating Island – Spa). A recording made in June of the Principality's birds (by Henrik Håkansson) echoes Rodney Graham's Phonokinetoscope. We also see the minor displays of vanity worthy of an exhibition created in the image of the Principality – some of Thomas Demand's own most recent works. Demand had originally imagined a simple "impossible dialogue" between his photographs and Ghirri's but then he discovered a shared love of Magritte and the exhibition took this new turn.
Thomas Demand explains what guided his exploration of Monaco in the fine catalogue published by Mack in London: "Monaco! Surrealism! Nature? There's not much nature to be seen, even though the whole country of Monaco sits on a rough rock riddled by caves that were inhabited by homini grimaldi even before anyone painted animals on the walls in Lascaux. ... but there is nothing here that could cater to my inborn Teutonic yearning for the wild. However, there is a lifestyle that would have appealed to the Surrealists (and, in fact, did): fabulous botanical gardens, which provided the basis for the image for the show's invitation card, and, next to the Villa Paloma, an almost vacant anthropological museum that gave us the showcase for Chris Garofalo's porcelain models. So, I thought to myself, if there is any talk of nature here, it has to be of domesticated nature – that is, potted plants, gardens, theme parks and models of wild growth. Transformations, every kind of presentation, interpretation and, finally, symbolic representation."
With these programmatic outlines, it is the method of association, borrowed from the Surrealists and elegantly applied to the improbable Monaco landscape, that makes this exhibition so rich. A Ger Van Elk film shows a small cactus being shaved with an electric razor, exalting the sense of estrangement and charm still felt in Villa Paloma. It is worth making the trip for one work alone, Prisoner Pair, a 2008 film by the always brilliant Tacita Dean. In conjunction with this exhibition, the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco is opening a second site, Villa Sauber, located on the other side of the Principality. Its first exhibition focuses on the entertainment arts, a reference to the presence of the increasingly ambitious local art school, Papillon Bosio, dedicated to stage design and to the mounting Monaco Art Prize - a promising start for the Nouveau Musée and a principality centred on the arts! Federico Nicolao
The Postcard of Nature curated by Thomas Demand
Until 22 February 2011
Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, on the site of Villa Paloma
55 boulevard du Jardin Exotique, 98000 Monaco