In the early 1960s, a number of artists, including Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke and Michael Asher began to use their works and writings to articulate a critique of art institutions. In Europe, Buren took an analytical approach in his criticism of artistic activity in the context of museums, challenging the notion that the gallery space was simply a neutral container. In his first texts, brought together in a two-volume work entitled Les Écrits (1970–73), the artist dissects the main functions of art institutions, namely their aesthetic, economic and mystical roles, which he relates to the tasks—related to conservation, grouping and shelter—that works are subjected to when they enter a museum. These principles and his artistic practice call into question the supposed infallibility of institutional mechanisms. Since that time, Buren has produced works that seek to question and radically transform the places where they are exhibited. From his earliest paintings to the stunning, complex devices he has created in recent years, his work has moved between painting, sculpture and architectural intervention, and his pieces are almost always identifiable thanks to a basic ‘visual tool’ he employs: his trademark 8.7-cm-wide coloured bands. His use of these stripes from the mid-1960s on reflected his determination to reach ‘degree zero’ in painting, reducing it to a purely objective fact. In their presence and their absence, these paintings stressed their own materiality, but they also drew attention to the structure that housed them—the gallery—now understood as an ideological space as well as a physical one. Buren’s work is an operation in situ and its meaning always derives from a specific context. Since 1975, he has created a series of cabanes éclatées (‘exploded cabins’), of which Les Parallèles is one. These open architectural forms invite viewers to penetrate their private domain. His ultimate goal in relation to the places where these structures are located is to disrupt the space and thus change the way we perceive it. Buren uses a biological metaphor to compare the space where his work is situated with a thoracic cavity in which the elements contract and expand (or explode), not unlike respiratory organs. The cabins present visitors with a new route they can move along by passing through a series of doors that open into each one and which, as is customary in structures of this type created by the artist, are physically projected and displaced into the space outside each hut. Buren’s cabins eloquently demonstrate that his work is sensual as well as conceptual. Viewers are invited to strive for complete perception, engaging their eyes, intellects and bodies in the task.
Juan de Nieves