Christian Robert-Tissot

Investigating the Possibilities of a Contemporary Museum in Geneve

How should a contemporary museum look like?

MAMCO – the museum of contemporary art in Geneva, offers a few hints.

First, every space in the museum is considered a proper exhibition space, with commissions at the stairway and the bathrooms. The museum has art in the floor and in the ceiling and proposes a complete immersion. It’s a fun and casual way to be around art.

For instance, the four neon signs by Maurizio Nannucci are the only source of light at the stairway. These works are some of the oldest in the collection, installed in 1994. These works have an end in itself, since it is, at once, art, text, light and sign (which is what each one says). The entrance stairway with the neon sets the tone for the visit, combining aesthetic enjoyment and conceptual theory. Nannucci stated his work with neon in 1967 as a method to work around language.




On another level, a room is dedicated to performance, with some documentary series by Vito Acconci and Alan Kaprow, among others. A memorable room houses part of the famous series 1965 / 1 – , by French-born Polish artist Roman Opalka. These white/grey-ish canvas filled with numbers seem odd at first glance, but represent a poetic gesture and are reminiscences of a life long project. In 65, Opalka delicately painted the number “1” at the at the top left- hand corner of a canvas. This gesture started his quest to paint every number to infinity.


By the time of his death, Opalka had placed more than five million numerals on 233 canvases, which were accompanied by mug shots of his face each day, in front of the work. It is a testament of time, and a moving image of life. As his face changes with ages, so do the colours of the canvases, turning more and more white. The first canvases were on a black background. But in 1968 the artists changed this black background colour to gray. Four years later he started to add 1% of white paint to the background colour after each canvas in order to lighten his surfaces gradually.

1965 / 1 – ∞
1965 / 1 – ∞


Roman Opalka
Roman Opalka


However, the most interesting section of the collection, in terms of exhibition making is the one entitled “L ‘apartement“ (The Apartment), which is PRECISELY that. This space is an exact reconstruction of the apartment occupied by Ghislain Mollet-Viéville, a collector and arte agent who lived at 26 rue Beaubourg, Paris, from 1975 to 1991.


According to Valérie Mavridorakis “ (…) G. Mollet-Viéville is primarily an esthete who has dedicated, since the late 60s, his professional activity to minimal art and conceptual art, in the same weather rigorously determined place of life and existence according to its principles. Also this apartment it can be seen as a work in itself. Compared to other rooms where are offered different modes of exposure to these art forms, The apartment puts them to the test of an insertion in daily private universe. So that between its occupants that are fleeting visitors and works from the collection of G. Mollet-Viéville can build more intimate relationships, alongside the experience of the public museum space.”


Ghislain was a good friend of many of the artists whose work is here displayed. For instance, Claude Ruibalt did a piece to his bedroom, which was a chameleon “ painting – a white canvas which was painted by artists according to the colour of the room of whoever bought the piece.




Lawrence Weiner applied the words “IN“ and “OUT“ in the windows, a synopsis of conceptual art – the “In’s“ are, of course, inside the window, and the “OUT’s“ are outside. Weiner considers himself a sculptor rather than a conceptualist, but much like Nannucci, he is one of the pioneers in using art as language, always attempting to achieve a broad engagement with art.




Most of the works at “The Apartment“ follow minimal or conceptual art lines. This means that the works are less invested in aesthetic achievements then it is on ideas, intellectual and sensorial stimulations. As Mavridorakis notes, one must consider Ghislain as a collector and a producer, in the way that the works here displayed can be erased and dispersed. In addition, “the office of a professional contemporary art lover who also lives as a player of this art is certainly one of the paradigms which have referred the critical collectors are Yoon Ja and Paul Devautour in the design of their studio (1st floor Mamco)”.

One of my favourite pieces at L’Apartment is an underrated one, also by Nannucci: Scrivere su l’acqua (Write on the water), in which the artist attempts to write on water with his finger. The series of photographs is effective not only as a document of this performance. but as a work considering Nannucci’s questionings on what we can visually grasp – a vital element of art.





Enjoy some more images of this spectacular collection below:


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