Exhibition review: Chasing Napoleon at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris

"Either the Hunter or the Hunted – There’s No Other Option" Review of the exhibition Chasing Napoleon at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, from October 15, 2009 to January 17, 2010.

Published in Studija 70, no. 1 (2010).

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View the article on the online archive of Studija magazine.

Either the Hunter or the Hunted - There’s no Other Option

Excerpt:

Featuring as one of the contemporary hunted “Napoleons” is the controversial 20th century legend Theodore Kaczynski (b. 1942), known as ‘Unabomber’ (‘University and airline bomber’). Once a respected and admired American professor of mathematics, he abandoned civilized society in 1971 and voluntarily began a hermit’s life in a forest cabin with no modern amenities.

Doing so was nothing new: Kaczynski refers to the experience of 19th century American free-thinker Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), who spent two years, two months and two days in similar conditions in the middle of the forest. Kaczynski had in his personal library a copy of Thoreau’s book, which gives an idealized account of this “simple life” (Walden, or, Life in the Woods, 1854). Philosophers in all ages have written from various standpoints on the “return to nature." Essential to this exhibition's context is the Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778).

But now let's return to Chasing Napoleon. Kaczynski, protesting against the destruction and devastation of nature in the name of technological development and the comfort of the consumer society, between 1978 and 1995 he carried out several acts of terrorism, sending out letter bombs. At that point, he was an invisible and dangerous “hunter.”

But soon the roles were reversed, and he became “the hunted”. In the US, the hunt turned into a media show. The target of this collective hunt – “the mad professor”, enemy of social progress – was captured in 1996 and received a life sentence.

The hunt for Kaczynski has inspired the creation of several of the works shown in Chasing Napoleon.

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Robert Kusmirowski,  Unacabine,  2008. Wooden boards, tar paper, plywood, tin pipe, oil, acrylic. 398 x 322 x 355 cm. Courtesy of Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warszawa and New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.

Robert Kusmirowski, Unacabine, 2008. Wooden boards, tar paper, plywood, tin pipe, oil, acrylic.
398 x 322 x 355 cm. Courtesy of Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warszawa and New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.

Paul Laffoley,  Thanaton III , 1989. Oil, acrylic, ink, lettering on canvas, 73 ½ x 73 ½ in. Courtesy of the artist and Kent Gallery, New York (NY). Collection Richard Metzger and Tara McGinley, Los Angeles (CA).

Paul Laffoley, Thanaton III, 1989. Oil, acrylic, ink, lettering on canvas, 73 ½ x 73 ½ in. Courtesy of the artist and Kent Gallery, New York (NY). Collection Richard Metzger and Tara McGinley, Los Angeles (CA).

Tom Friedman,  Untitled (A Curse) , 2009. Witch’s curse and pedestal; 91,4x 38,1 x 38,1 cm. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York, galerie Bernard Ceysson, Paris and Gallery Tomio Koyama, Tokyo. Photo: Justin Kemp.

Tom Friedman, Untitled (A Curse), 2009. Witch’s curse and pedestal; 91,4x 38,1 x 38,1 cm. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York, galerie Bernard Ceysson, Paris and Gallery Tomio Koyama, Tokyo. Photo: Justin Kemp.