Okwui Enwezor on the New Palais de Tokyo

Questions for the head curator of Paris’s Palais de Tokyo.

After extensive renovations, Palais de Tokyo has just reopened with the third La Triennale exhibition (through August 26). This year’s show, “Intense Proximity,” features works from nearly 150 photographers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors and performance artists. Head curator Okwui Enwezor shares his thoughts with Julie Coe on the diverse collection he has assembled.

Q: What does the idea of intense proximity mean to you?

A: One of the principal questions I wanted to ask is: What happens when people move between cultural zones, especially when all these zones suddenly come very close to each other? In the context of globalization and migration, intense proximity might not, at face value, reflect the forms of cosmopolitanism we associate with contemporary culture—it could turn into forms of antagonism. So that’s really what the exhibition wants to explore. Not simply how to share space, but how to live in disjunctive times.

Q: Are there any works that try to find a way toward proximity without antagonism?

A: What art does is offer us the possibility to negotiate difficulty. Isaac Julien’s Territories, his very first film, made in ’84, will be in the show. It was shot in the context of the Notting Hill Carnival, which originated with Caribbean immigrants in 1964 London. It began small and then blossomed into something major, so carnival helped provide a space of reverie, of contact. I don’t know if it solves it, but I think it alludes to the question of minimizing antagonism, of producing other forms of contact.