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French ‘Father of conceptual art’ reconstructs Cabañas Institute

The Instituto Cultural Cabañas will probably never look like this again.

A public art “intervention” by legendary and thought-provoking French artist Daniel Buren – often referred to as the “father of conceptual art” – opens at Guadalajara’s premier cultural attraction on Friday, March 14. 

These past two weeks, the 75-year-old artist – helped by 20 assistants – has been busy transforming the renowned UNESCO heritage site  into a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors, a work that will thrill many and certainly displease a few. 

Buren is perhaps known best for using regular, contrasting colored stripes in an effort to integrate visual surface and architectural space, notably on historical, landmark architecture. 

The installation will spread out through all of the Cabañas’ 18 patios, including the chapel that houses Jose Clemente Orozco’s most famous mural, “The Man of Fire,” representing the submission of humans to machines.

Talking this week as he worked, Buren was full of praise for the Cabañas’ architects, noting that the building is “built like a game of mirrors, with all the patios symmetric but with much subtlety.”

Gallery owner Mauricio Galguera, Buren’s agent in Mexico, says the Frenchman is fascinated by this country, which he frequently refers to as “surreal.”

Born in Boulogne-Billancourt in 1938, Buren developed a radical form of conceptual art, a “degree zero of painting” as he called it, which played simultaneously on an economy of means and the relationship between the support and the medium. He began producing unsolicited public art works using striped awning canvas common in France. He started by setting up hundreds of striped posters, so-called affichages sauvages, around Paris and later in more than 100 metro stations, drawing public attention through these unauthorized bandit-style acts.

Buren has exhibited in the Venice Biennale more than ten times and was awarded the Golden Lion for his French Pavilion in 1986. That same year, he produced his first and most controversial public commission, “The Two Plateaux,” for the main courtyard of the Palais-Royal in Paris.

Buren has been the subject of retrospectives at the Pompidou Center in Paris (2002) and the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2005). His work is also included in prestigious private and public collections worldwide.

Buren’s Cabañas installation is costing eight million pesos and is funded by several Mexican government organizations, including the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (Conaculta) and the Jalisco state government, as well as some private sponsors such as Comex, Vogue and BMW.

Jalisco Culture Secretary Myriam Vachez said Guadalajara was “honored” that the artist chose the city for his latest work.

Officials from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have cast an eye on Buren’s labors this week, making sure that nothing untoward happens to the historic building – the city’s leading cultural attraction. 

You can view Daniel Buren’s latest installation at the Cabañas Institute from Friday, March 14.  Expect to see variations on his trademark bold graphics, colors and stripes.

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