The Postcard of Nature: Thomas Demand in Monaco

German artist Thomas Demand in the uncommon guise of exhibition curator inaugurates the programme at Villa Paloma, Monaco.

Villa Paloma, near the Jardin Exotique, is the second exhibition space recently opened to the public by the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. A truly captivating space, it welcomes visitors with splendid art-nouveau windows overlooking the sea and a wonderful view of the Rock. The director of the Monaco museum complex, Marie-Claude Beaud, is already known for her hugely interesting proposals in Luxembourg. For the inauguration, she decided to commission an exhibition with German artist Thomas Demand in the uncommon guise of curator and a fascinating title "The Postcard of Nature", the name originally given by Magritte to a refined magazine he published in 1952. Demand's art work explores spaces and architecture, playing on the tangent between imagery and reality but, in this case, the artist plays with the Mediterranean and estranging image of Monaco. Previously famous for Grace, the Grand Prix and the Casino, as well as its tax regime, the Grimaldi feud has been trying to reinvent its vocation as a capital of finance and give itself an arts focus, an interesting operation that, it must be said, has been launched with great expertise.

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
Tacita Dean, Prisoner Pair, 2008, 16 mm colour film, mute, 11 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery New York/Paris
Tacita Dean, Prisoner Pair, 2008, 16 mm colour film, mute, 11 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery New York/Paris
Thomas Demand, Haltestelle, 2009. © Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / ADAGP, Paris
Thomas Demand, Haltestelle, 2009. © Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / ADAGP, Paris
Anne Holtrop
Anne Holtrop
Anne Holtrop
Anne Holtrop
Anne Holtrop
Anne Holtrop
Luigi Ghirri, Rimini 1977 da In scala, C-Print. © Eredi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri, Rimini 1977 da In scala, C-Print. © Eredi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri, Ferrara 1981 da Topographie-Iconographie, C-Print. © Eredi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri, Ferrara 1981 da Topographie-Iconographie, C-Print. © Eredi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri, Vienna 1984 da Un piede nell'Eden, Cibachrome. © Eredi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri, Vienna 1984 da Un piede nell'Eden, Cibachrome. © Eredi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri, Parma 1985 da Il profilo delle nuvole, C-Print. © Eredi Ghirri
Luigi Ghirri, Parma 1985 da Il profilo delle nuvole, C-Print. © Eredi Ghirri
René Magritte
René Magritte
Saâdane Afif, Stratégie de l'inquiétude, 1998, legno, resina e pittura. Collection Fond Régional d'art contemporain Poitou-Charente, Angoulême, France. Courtesy of the artist and Michel Rein Gallery, Paris
Saâdane Afif, Stratégie de l'inquiétude, 1998, legno, resina e pittura. Collection Fond Régional d'art contemporain Poitou-Charente, Angoulême, France. Courtesy of the artist and Michel Rein Gallery, Paris
Thomas Demand, Hydrokoltur, 2010. © Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / ADAGP, Paris
Thomas Demand, Hydrokoltur, 2010. © Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / ADAGP, Paris
Villa Paloma
Villa Paloma

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