Museum Director as Classicist: Suzanne Pagé and “Migrateurs”, 1993-2003

On hearing the news of the travel restrictions on passengers carrying large electronic devices in their carry-on luggage from 8 Muslim-majority countries, for some reason I was reminded of an obscure curatorial intervention in the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.  Between the years of 1993-2003 the then director Suzanne Pagé worked with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist to plan a series of small exhibitions by a single artist, to intervene in a minor way within the museum. The project was called Migrateurs. Each exhibition produced a small, cheap guide, created by the artist. (The images on this post are taken from the Nodes + Networks project that displays and documents Obrist’s publications and projects).

Obrist describes Migrateurs as follows in his book Ways of Curating:

Several Times a year, we would invite an artist to develop a project. In the first phase they would decide where and in what form to intervene, in an intense discussion with the museum; however, the site of intervention was never predetermined. Migrateurs was an attempt to create a mobile platform within a large institution.

Obrist’s description of the project is part of a chapter called ‘Mentors’, and he uses the Migrateurs project to expound on why Suzanne Pagé’s influence was so significant on his role as a curator, partly explaining this in terms of her Classicist background:

She maximized both the archiving and creatively generating functions of her institution. Pagé came from a classical background, having studied Latin and Greek and then seventeenth-century painting at the Sorbonne. This had led her not to pit the past and present against each other but instead to encourage their intermingling through her inspired curating. A product of the May 1968 civil unrest in Paris, she wanted to produce a new inclusivity and invite new audiences to engage with the museum. 

Obrist concludes his discussion of Pagé as mentor by describing the precise influence of the Migrateurs project on his own curatorial development:

During the Migrateurs exhibitions, I realized that, by collaborating with the artists, I had found a way to formalize something in my work as a young curator: the oscillation between large art institutions and exhibitions in unusual places in the context of everyday life.

It was the Classicist director’s willingness to intermingle archive and laboratory, past and present in her museum that generated Obrist’s focus on the everyday within broader structures of creativity and culture. By coming together, Pagé and Obrist gave a space for the contemporary artist to inhabit a corner of a museum, to be encountered amid the grand and glorious retrospectives of Modernist masters, to create a shift in perspective and to align historical and current forms of value.

Beyond the art world context, it may seem like a minor, everyday inconvenience to prevent these passengers from bringing their laptops and other large devices in their hand-luggage, but if, as Pagé and Obrist demonstrate, the everyday can intervene on the main stage of a museum, what is to say that this everyday inconvenience is not connected to the broader context of Islamophobia and, possibly, to a repressive isolationism as a whole. Just as the world of the museum can be opened-up by the creative intervention of a contemporary artist, with the support of a Classicist director and a trail-blazing curator, we are watching the closing-down of our world by these petty, but dangerous, restrictions.

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