Many things have been rumored about the artist called Manko since he vanished about a year ago. Some even went so far as to claim he had died. So it was all over the news when Manko came back from out of nowhere and started working on a giant installation for the brand new museum L'Œuvre in Paris.
The highly anticipated opening attracted a lot of attention from the international press. This had only partially to do with Manko's comeback as it was also the grand opening of the L'Œuvre, with its new formula of offering a giant cubical white space to show the work of only one artist at a time. In these times of economic depression it's noteworthy that the gallery offers no shop, no café or restaurant and does not charge an entrance fee. Entirely funded by a mysterious mecenas called '0', each artist will have the space available for the duration of one year, making it worthwhile to show his or her œuvre in one giant retrospective. For the opening however, L'Œuvre did not show Manko's complete life's work, but only the one installation that I will try to describe in this review.
I was one of a select party of one hundred guests assembled in front of the museum, invited to climb a long set of stairs leading up to a small door in the middle of the immense facade. The first thing that caused disappointment among guests was the fact that Manko himself was not present at the opening. The tacit and tall museum director, Monsieur Beaucorps, did not even mention Manko's absence when he simply opened the door for the attending audience to enter the cube. An unusual opening, completely stripped of any of the usual bravado: no ribbon to cut, no unveiling, no opening speech.
When we entered L'Œuvre, we found ourselves standing inside a huge glass construction positioned inside the giant white cube, stretching from the entrance to the far side of the museum. Walking around in the sand that was in the glass construction, it soon became clear to us that we were walking around in an enormous hourglass on its side. With no support structure, two balloon shaped spaces were connected in the middle by a small hole and the sand in the hourglass came up to the level of this opening. Because of the sheer size of the hourglass, the opening was still large enough for a child to pass through. Some of the children of the present VIP's passed through the hole and as there were no guards stopping them, some adults passed through as well, getting on their hands and knees and getting their tuxedos and dresses full of sand. The spaces appeared to be identical though and there was no other way out than the door through which we had entered.
As there were no drinks and there was no music, the VIP's started to get restless. The director was not willing to speak and just stood there observing the audience. Without a brochure or the artist explaining the meaning of the untitled work, an atmosphere of disappointment soon came over the guests, even after the initial feelings of awe with the size of the museum. The press photographers looked uncomfortable taking pictures of bored people just standing around. Some children played around in the sand, which was good for a few laughs with photographers taking a quick snapshot, but soon enough people started leaving, murmurring in dismay.
I simply could not believe this was an installation by Manko. At first I was thrilled that I had received a personal invitation for the opening from Manko himself. Yet having written about many of his artworks before and considering myself very well aquainted with his work and his underlying theme of absence, I have to say that the new work was not at all what I had expected. Not having a typical opening with drinks and speeches could have been a statement of something missing, but could just as easily be realized without this huge installation. Considering the sand, the space was not really empty either, except for the guests that had all left after half an hour. I tried to take every aspect of the work into account, not easily demotivated by the absence of a clear message or meaning. After all, as a connoisseur of Manko's work I had a built up a certain reputation which I was not willing to give up that easily. So after the last guest left, I asked the - still silent - director to be left alone.
I walked back and forth in the hourglass for about an hour. The entire construction was a marvelous piece of craftsmanship, no doubt about that, but at the same time it was not very original in its shape, looking much like some of the minimalistic hourglasses you may find in any fancy design shop. The sand was just plain sand, the type of sand that is used in construction, without any traces of impurity like sand from a beach would have. I then started to dig some holes here and there, but to no avail. Nothing seemed to be buried here. I even brought some sand from one space to another, hoping something might happen, but the hourglass did not react.
Soon I started to doubt if this was an artwork by Manko at all. The hourglass was such a cliché, so unoriginal, that I felt depressed. Was this a comment on time? Time that had been stopped? Like an hourglass in a cancelled game of chess? Or was it about the lack of time? Was this to be his last artwork? Is that why he had disappeared just as mysteriously as he had before? Had his clock stopped running? Did he suffer from some fatal disease and was this his way of saying goodbye to the artworld?
When I left the museum, Monsieur Beaucorps was waiting patiently to close up and I asked him for an explanation about the work. He simply stated that he was not allowed to share any information about Manko or his work. It was clear to me by now that no matter what my interpretation was, I would never know for sure unless I could ask Manko himself. I wandered the beautiful boulevards of Paris for a few more hours, hoping it would come to me, but in the end I decided to give up.
Now, one month later, I still cannot grasp the meaning of the work and I feel cheated by Manko. By now it is old news that Manko disappeared again and nobody cared anymore. Why had he even invited me to the opening? Why did he do this to me? Was I really not smart enough to understand this last work, or had Manko just lost it? I'm afraid we will never know.
I am writing this last art review while I am sitting in the hourglass, in a comfortable beach chair. There are no visitors at all since the exhibition was killed by the press. As for me, under the pretense of studying the work, I come here occasionally. I hope to write many more reviews here on young and upcoming artists, enjoying the peace and quiet, right in the middle of bustling Paris. So with these last words I would like to say farewell to Manko, wherever he is.
Aston Revola, Paris 05/11/21 for Next Nature Blog
[Previous edition: Manko & The Earth #12]