Philippe Parreno’s survey exhibition at HangarBicocca suggested an imaginary city. Urban elements—a downtown road skirted by flashing signs, a skyline of skyscrapers, a quiet neighborhood illuminated by moonlight—were conjured throughout the former factory space, the works functioning as a massive site-specific installation.
Providing a main road through this city was the installation Danny the Street (2006-15)—a series of 19 of Parreno’s “Marquees” suspended from the ceiling one after the other, at different heights. These dazzling sculptures, composed of plexiglass and lights, mimic movie-theater marquees or architectural canopies and here marked a path for visitors to follow. Danny the Street takes its name from a DC Comics character: an anthropomorphic roadway, male and “transvestite” (the stores lining his streets are decorated with pink curtains and other “feminine” accoutrements), that is able to teleport into different cities. In Parreno’s installation, the “Marquees” carried out a light and sound show, their bulbs flashing in patterns and their speakers emitting an elaborate soundtrack (conceived by Parreno with sound designer Nicolas Becker, musician Agoria and others) for the entire exhibition. At certain moments, two Disklavier pianos, positioned on the floor under the “Marquees,” played on their own, as though by an invisible presence.
If Danny the Street made visitors feel as though they were walking down an urban thoroughfare, Another Day with Another Sun (2014), realized in collaboration with Liam Gillick, evoked the parabola of a sun, from dawn to dusk. For this work, a spotlight crossed the venue on a suspended track. The bright beam struck the industrial columns and other architectural features of the space, casting shadows resembling silhouettes of skyscrapers and bridges on an expanse of white fabric hung from the ceiling.
As is typical with Parreno, the exhibition may be better described as an event—with audiovisual stimuli unfolding over the course of 100 minutes, in various staged scenarios—than as a mere collection of artworks. Four videos were projected on the white fabric, including the renowned Marilyn (2012), a “portrait” of the late actress in which a robot imitates her handwriting and a computer reproduces her voice. Another projected video was Invisibleboy (2010-15), set in New York City; the main character is a Chinese kid who imagines monstrous figures in the narrow streets of Chinatown and in his home. At HangarBicocca, the final scene of Invisibleboy, showing the Manhattan skyline during a blizzard, merged with the shadows cast on the screen by the artificial sun overhead, the effect being a blending of actual and imaginary urban landscapes.
The exhibition, curated by Andrea Lissoni (formerly of HangarBicocca and now at Tate Modern), was titled “Hypothesis.” As Parreno explains in a video interview, the title was meant to echo that of his 2015 show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, “Hypnosis.” “I was interested in pushing a bit further what I made in New York in order to produce a ‘hypothesis’ of what an exhibition may be about,” he says. Indeed, the show—at once a lyrical portrayal of an imaginary city, a dramatic event and a gathering of works from throughout the artist’s career—expanded the possibilities of the retrospective form.