In 1982, Daniel Buren was asked to present a work at Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany, and he offered the curators Les Guirlandes: garlands strung on rope between posts in the field in front of the Museum Fridericianum, with snippets of classic music playing from loudspeakers. In between the tunes, a voice would recite the names of flags’ colors in different languages.
It’s not as cheery as it sounds. Buren meant the mingling of color and language as a critique of nationalism, and the massive outdoor installation was a sly jab at Documenta 7’s curators, who went heavy on paintings in museum buildings and light on everything else. Many of the organizers tried to block Les Guirlandes from being in the show, but it was eventually allowed to go up.
Now, 35 years later, the work has been restaged for Art Basel Miami Beach’s “Public” sector, which takes over the Collins Park field in front of the Bass Museum each year. It’s marvelous, with the lines of string hung high up between palm trees, and with the whole thing visible from anywhere on the block and beyond. The triumphant bursts of orchestra music must be loud enough to bleed into the W South Beach hotel lobby across the street.
(An example of the selections, courtesy my phone’s Shazam app: An overture from Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, as performed by Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.)
At the opening reception this evening, prominent Basel-goers, such as the husband-and-wife curators Massimiliano Gioni and Cecilia Alemani, came by to check it out, and they went over to chat with Stefania Bortolami, Buren’s dealer, as she stood at the base of the work. (The wall text here is on the ground, and the plaque for Les Guirlandes helpfully tells visitors to PLEASE LOOK UP!) A dealer at Bortolami noted that the work was still available, and at a price lower than one might think. If you happen to have a lawn the size of two football fields where it can be installed, the work’s a good buy.