Le magasin, by Alice Wilke

The first paragraph and a half from page 128/129 of Ben Vautier. Is everything art?

©2015 Museum Tinguely, Basel, Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin, authors, artists and photographers [and translator!]. ISBN 978-3-86828-649-6

Le magasin

 “En vérité du temps du Magasin j’étais heureux debout dans la rue à vendre des disques d’occasion et à regarder passer les filles. En 1958 j’ai le choc Duchamp. Alors pour moi la peinture est finie, je ne pouvais plus rien jeter. Une allumette était aussi belle que la Joconde. Il fallait donc tout garder: les pots de peinture vides, les pinceaux, etc. J’ai tout cloué. Pour gagner ma vie je vendais des disques d’occasion et au premier étage je fis une petite galerie ›pour chercher le nouveau‹.”[i]

Standing in front of the large, playful-looking installation, one may involuntarily imagine the reactions of the people on the street in Nice who, in the course of the 1960s, walked past “Laboratoire 32”, a small second-hand record store with gallery space at 32 Rue Tondutti de l’Escarène. The unusual facade conveys a corporeally lively impression, rebelliously retains, in these silent museum surroundings, a hint of the street situation from which it originally springs. The storefront’s compact surface area has been equipped by the artist with densely packed signs and panels of varying sizes. All of them in his wayward handwriting and painted with pithy sayings, as are also the colorful wooden crates for the vinyl ware, sorted according to music genres, in the display set out in front of the wall bedecked with assorted objects, which once constituted the glazed shop window.  Amid all this, among the written images, a downright curious mix is on parade, the widest variety of higgledy-piggledy everyday objects: Lamps, buckets, empty paint tins and pots, fans, head coverings, masks, a typewriter, a traffic cone, a plastic sieve, the spokes of a bicycle wheel  – as an homage to the famous readymade by Duchamp – and a whole lot more; added to this the colorfully glowing lightbulbs and the resounding music from the record player – all of this combines to make a total work of art. For lack of opportunities to expand sideways or upward (the narrow store facade had been tightly integrated into the row, architectonically bordered on all sides), it has evidently successively grown forward. Frozen in its current stage of development, it presents itself as a sculptural entity, almost like the relief of a giant assemblage. Considered in that way there is probably a certain connection between Ben’s Le magasin and the Tableaux pièges by Daniel Spoerri, the snare pictures which capture real situations of lively dinner scenes and preserve them for posterity in image form.

The vitality of Ben’s erstwhile locale as a meeting place for Nice’s young art scene, as a gallery and exhibition space, as well as a place for putting on numerous performances is also reflected in the storefront of Le magasin, which, as a series of photographs prove, found itself under continuous transformation and expansion over the years. Changes in the name also took place in the course of its existence: “Laboratoire 32” temporarily became Galerie Ben doute de Tout and, with the full disassembly of the facade in 1972 and the subsequent true-to-scale reconstruction of the property for the Musée national d’art moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the gallery of the proverbial total doubt became simply Le magasin. (…)

[i] Ben. Je cherche la vérité, exh. cat. Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain Nice, Nice, Paris 2001, p.69. “In truth, in the Magasin’s time I was happy standing in the street selling second-hand records and watching the girls go by. In 1958 I suffered the Duchamp shock. So, for me, painting was finished, I couldn’t throw away anything again. A matchstick was as beautiful as the Mona Lisa. So I had to keep everything: empty paint pots, brushes, etc. I nailed everything down. To earn my living I sold second-hand records and on the first floor I made a little gallery for ‘seeking the new.’”