From 6 June of this year to 4 January 2015, the musée du château des ducs de Wurtemberg of Montbéliard is featuring a major show devoted to the work of Sarkis titled Les pôles des aimants (The magnets’ poles). The artist has devised an encounter between the famous people buried in the Panthéon, who have left a mark on the history of France, and anonymous individuals who have been dead for a century and who built local history in Montbéliard. Throughout an area plunged in murky half-light and covering more than 500 m2, the names of writers, scientists and politicians are written out in blue neon signatures. Thanks to the intensity of the light they cast, these glowing signatures illuminate one hundred large-format photo portraits of now forgotten inhabitants of Montbéliard. And from the varied collections of the Musées de Montbéliard, the artist has reappropriated costumes, chairs, ancient furniture, birds, strange paintings and other unusual objects to add a strong theatrical aspect to this unique contrasting of written names and portraits put to mechanically generated music.

By summoning up the Panthéon and its history in Montbéliard today, Sarkis is continuing a project he first developed in 2000 inside the historic Parisian monument. The neon signatures of some of the famous people interred there was indeed a breath of fresh air under the building’s great dome. Sarkis is now giving the project a second life within the new framework of a castle. For this first solo show in Montbéliard—a show that is clearly custom designed for the venue—the artist has been like a seismograph, exquisitely sensitive to the history of the site as well as the objects and works he has discovered there, recording stories, comparing and contrasting the archives as well as personal and collective memories, and interweaving these documents in an urge to re-create. The names of clergy, members of the Resistance and other great men of France, transcribed in blue neon light, in turn illuminates these many natives of Montbéliard whose names have faded from memory over the years. Their images, coming from small glass plates that are part of the museum’s photography collection, suddenly appear on a human scale, projected onto posters. A soundtrack playing in the space, a constant presence lulling viewers as they walk through the show, is a reinterpretation of the music from some of the music boxes that make up one of the collections of the museum of Art and History in the Hôtel Beurnier-Rossel, the city’s second museum and memorial site. The show is punctuated by highlighted pieces selected from the vast legacy that is conserved in the Musées de Montbéliard. Alive day and night, the show is like respiration, breathing life into the château and its treasures, from both here and much further afield.

In keeping with a multidisciplinary logic, music and film have often played an important role in Sarkis’s creative approach. In this regard, the artist launched a joint project with the Conservatory of Montbéliard, that is, the creation of a score from the sounds produced by music boxes, which will be randomly broadcast in the venue as well as interpreted in a number of unique concerts to be given in the exhibition itself.

Furthermore, Les pôles des aimants has a film component as well, jointly programed with the art-house cinema Le Colisée of Montbéliard in conjunction with the Sarkis exhibition. The idea is to give a forum to filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and Apichatpong Weerasethakul whose work deals especially with disappearance, memory, or reincarnation.

A monographic catalogue devoted to the exhibition, like the reflection of a theater program, is slated for publication by the Musées de Montbéliard.

Sarkis was born in 1938 in Istanbul, and since 1964 he has lived and worked in Paris. In 1967, he was awarded the Paris Biennial’s prize in painting. In 1969, he was invited by the critic Harald Szeemann to take part in the show Quand les attitudes deviennent formes, at the Kunsthalle of Bern. Transmission and teaching lie at the heart of Sarkis’s concerns. From 1980 to 1995, he served as director of the art department at Strasbourg’s École supérieure des arts décoratifs, and from 1988 to 1995, he was seminar director at the Institut des Hautes Études in Paris. Internationally known and appreciated, Sarkis’s work has been shown in the last ten years at the musée d’art contemporain of Lyon in 2003, the San Francisco Art Institute in 2006, the Louvre and the musée Bourdelle in Paris, the musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain of Strasbourg and the Bode-Museum in Berlin in 2007, as well as the Centre Pompidou, which mounted a vast solo show of his work in 2010. He is represented by Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels.

In his work, Sarkis has fashioned over and over a dialog with history and other artists, cultures and works of art. He creates installations by molding light, sound, the image and other art materials to confront memory, time, space and subjective experience, while giving a voice to objects. Archeology, ethnology, philosophy, musicology and film feed into the formal experiments of the artist, who imbues dormant treasures with a new esthetic and a liberating breath of life. Installations, videos, sound pieces, watercolors, sculptures, photographs, films, stained-glass windows and neon-light works are part of a formal register that embraces a great range of approaches.

Located in the heart of the city of Montbéliard, the château des ducs de Wurtemberg stands on a rocky spur overlooking the confluence of the Lizaine and the Allan rivers. Made up of two large round towers (1424 and 1590) flanking a main building that was reconstructed in 1751, the château was for four centuries, from 1397 to 1793, the residence of the dukes of Wurtemberg, who imparted to the Land of Montbéliard a freedom and an independence of spirit that was well suited to the Lutheran Reformation in the sixteenth century. In 1960, the château was transformed into a museum that brought together under one roof a number of extensive and varied collections focused on archeology, natural history and the fine arts. Since 1970, the museum has also been developing a collection of contemporary art. The collection of the Musées de Montbéliard now boasts some 600,000 pieces.

Musée du château des ducs de Wurtemberg

Montbéliard 25200 France
Ph. +33 03 81992261

Opening hours

From 10 am to 12 pm, and from 2 pm to 6 pm
Closed Tuesdays, and 1 November, 25 December and 1 January