Claude Parent: La colline de l'art @ Tate Liverpool

Review by Sacha Waldron | 30 Jul 2014

I have never heard anyone laugh in the Wolfson Gallery before, not even a chuckle. Until now. I’m watching three girls slide down an angled ramp, landing on a seating platform alongside a projection of choreographer Trisha Brown dancing. The gallery attendant doesn’t even raise her eyebrow because we are all in French avant-garde architect Claude Parent’s installation (or rather remodelling) of the Tate gallery entitled La colline de l'art (The Hill of Art). Here you can play.

Part of Liverpool Biennial’s group exhibition A Needle Walks Into a Haystack, Claude Parent (b. 1923) has followed the rules of ‘fonction oblique’ for his Tate offering, an architectural principle he founded together with writer Paul Virilio in 1964. In ‘fonction oblique’, the importance of the diagonal line and of the deconstruction of space are paramount. So floors become slopes, up is sometimes down, and walls, floors, seating and walkways interchangeable. Parent and Virilio went on to write a book Vivre à l'oblique (Living on the Slope) but today, the only surviving architectural example of their collaboration is the bunker-like Church of Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay, in Nevers, built 1963-1966, which has no level floors and appears to undulate upwards to the altar. ‘Space’, say Parent and Virilio in their book, ‘should predominate over surface.’

Parent was invited to construct the French pavilion to 1970’s Venice Biennale as a space to show art and although his participation marked the end of his work with Virilio (who refused to participate) it was a key moment for Parent, who installed a series of artificial slope landscapes that housed the Biennale artworks. Tate and the (Liverpool) Biennial took this pavilion as their starting point and asked Parent to reconfigure the space to make it, as Biennial curator Mai Abu ElDahab says, “into the museum you think it [Tate] should be or the way in which you think people should experience art.”

Parent has rendered his Hill of Art in light grey and sunshine yellow with the odd mesh-like transparent wall. The effect is rather calming and you are drawn around the space and encouraged to linger and lounge. Sixteen works are taken from the Tate collection, selected by Parent, which is important. This is a place of display: a conversation between art and architecture and not just a nostalgic architectural show-home. Two strands of Parent’s aesthetic interest can be identified: geometric abstraction (with works from Gillian Wise and even a little Carlos Cruz-Diez tucked in somewhere) and works that explore what architecture is or could be (Gustav Metzger, for example, or Francis Picabia).

You have to explore the space; this is not one to make one round and you’re done. Climbing the hill to discover Roy Lichtenstein’s iridescent blue Moonscape (1965) on the balcony, or rounding a dark corner to find Mark Leckey’s Felix Gets Broadcasted (2007). The process is repeatable, enjoyable, the ideas complex and satisfying. Thanks, Parent, I like my art like this.

Runs until 26 October. Open every day, 10am-6pm

A selection of drawings by Parent can also be found on the second floor of Tate Liverpool for the Biennial's A Needle Walked Into a Haystack exhibition