Tania Mouraud was born in 1942 in Paris, France, where she continues to live with her family. Mouraud studied languages prior to her initial foray into the artworld as a painter in 1963. Since 1976, she has taught art at L'Ecole Regionale d'Expression Plastique, Tourcoing, France. During the past three decades, Mouraud has shown in numerous exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States. Her solo exhibitions have included: Tania Mouraud: Wall Painting (UCLA Hammer Museum, 1999), World Signs (Riverside Studios, London, 1998), Black Power (Galerie de Lege Ruimte, Bruges, 1989), Garden Shooting (Galerie Contretype, Bruxelles, 1987), City Performance No. 2 (60 posters, Lyon, 1980), and Art Space No. 5 (Special project, PSI, New York1977). Among the group exhibitions Mouraud has participated in are: Flash (Power Plant, Toronto, 1997), Femininmasculin (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and New York, 1995), Public and Private (Edinburgh, 1993), Diversité Photographique (Galerie 1900-2000, Paris, 1991), Minimal Art-Art Conceptual (Galerie Christian Cheneau, Paris, 1987), Typish Frau (Galerie Philoméne Magers, Bonn, 1981), and Artwords and Bookwords (LAICA, California, 1978).

A Collection: Source of a Text

All my work is that of a painter who . . . has unfurled the parts of a picture in space, bearing in mind not the logic of form but the logic of writing. 1
Tania Mouraud

Tania Mouraud’s studio is usually devoid of brushes and canvas, yet painting and its history have informed her work—whether it be sculpture, photography, textiles, or installation—throughout her career. Although her approach is most closely allied with conceptual art, Mouraud does not deny her links to abstract painting and the traditional modernist grid. While an appreciation for the work of modern abstract painters such as Piet Mondrian and Ad Reinhardt might be formally evident in Mouraud's work, a more explicit association can be drawn from an examination of her affinities with conceptual artists such as Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner. Evidence of ties to all of these artists can be seen in her most recent installation, A Collection. This work, which resembles a brightly colored abstract composition, demonstrates the artist’s concern with the elusive nature of language, the relationship between the living artist and the art museum, and the cultural complexities presented by the activity of collecting contemporary art.

A Collection is the fifth in an ongoing series of works entitled Millefeuille(s), which was first realized in 1996 at Le Quartier, Centre d’art contemporain, in Quimper, France. For the inaugural installation, Mouraud printed two thousand names of boats onto sheets of recycled paper, which she then plastered to the walls of a gallery, floor to ceiling. Quimper is in Brittany, a coastal province, and the names were taken from fishing boats and yachts that sailed the waters of the Breton coast. Subsequent versions of Millefeuille(s) were created in 1997 in Limerick, Ireland; in 1998 in Nice, France; and in 1999 in London—each of which related to the site of the installation, thus producing a portrait of a particular world. Each time Mouraud revisits the series, she creates a new work that enhances the original concept, resulting in an accumulation or layering of the possible interpretations of the piece. The word millefeuille, which is the name of a type of French pastry made with many layers of dough, can be loosely translated into English as “a thousand leaves,” referring both to the hundreds of sheets of paper as well as to the layers of meaning that make up the work.

Mouraud reveals the identity of the different environments she visits through a close examination of the site’s distinctive temperament and its inhabitants’ ways of thinking. In an increasingly global society, she is interested in the remaining cultural characteristics that distinguish different regions from one another—in this case varying locations in Europe and the United States. The French artist, visiting Southern California from Paris, brings an outsider’s point of view to the University Art Museum and that perspective gradually flows from the work. Like an anthropologist studying another culture, Mouraud engages in an exploration of the customs and social constructions she encounters. In A Collection she highlights the University Art Museum’s twenty-five-year history of collecting contemporary art by using the archives of the museum’s permanent collection as the source for the text. Kiss, Gothic Frieze, French Curve, Our Lady, Girl with Antelope, Conway Summit, Broom, Two Sheep, Rum and Coke, and Triangle are just a few of the names given to artworks (either titles given by the artists or descriptions added later by gallerists or curators) in the process of creating records used to identify, sort, categorize, and research objects in the collection.

These works were selected for acquisition by the museum, and thus validated, by a rigorous process that considers issues such as quality and appropriateness to the collection. Yet these works of art are reduced to prosaic word groups by their labels. In the absence of the artworks themselves, the titles become random references to unseen images. Once again, Mouraud has chosen subject matter that pertains to the site, characteristically calling on language for its usefulness in uncovering how we construct our knowledge of the world. In the scholarly environment of the university campus, the written word is generally favored over images as a pedagogic tool. Mouraud imitates, and reinforces, that cultural preference by displaying only the titles. In doing so, she calls into question the choice of language as a means of communicating an artist’s ideas.

The viewer is invited to enter the installation, a five-hundred-square-foot space whose walls are completely covered with brightly colored sheets of paper in varying sizes inscribed with seemingly random words, phrases, and fragmented ideas printed in bold text. Mouraud’s words—the bold, shadowed letters recalling strategies used by advertisers to grab our attention—demand to be read. While they remind us of the advertising slogans that bombard us daily as we move through our visual landscape, they differ radically in that they are random and meaningless without the images to which they refer. They also require more than a split second to digest. In contrast to the realm of popular culture, where information is delivered at a rapid-fire pace, Mouraud offers a chapel-like environment conducive to quiet reflection. As Robert Fleck noted in a 1996 exhibition catalogue: “Much of Tania Mouraud’s work is about freeing herself and freeing the visitor from the speed-reading imposed by audio-visual and electronic media. In this sense, it is a work of contemplation rather than art involving the impact of advertisement.”2 The viewer is given a chance to slow down and reflect on the meaning of the names and titles. Viewing the installation, one might also ponder our expectations of both language and art as tools for communication.

The use of text as facsimile for art objects has been an integral part of Mouraud’s practice for the past thirty years. Without offering a linear narrative or rationale, her texts have multiple meanings and trigger various associations and interpretations, depending on the viewer. As curator Louise Dompierre has pointed out: “There is a deliberate fissure between what is being said and the context of the utterance. And it is within this apparent gap that meaning emerges. Mouraud’s work makes it clear that her words do not reveal meaning . . . but function at a conceptual level and involve the viewer’s emotions.”3

This strategy represents an extension and expansion of ideas that conceptual artists began to formulate in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like Weiner did in his watershed text pieces of the late 1960s, Mouraud aims to challenge the traditional idea of the artist as genius and the importance of the art object. Weiner, who applied text to gallery walls that provided instructions for making art, also omitted the art object. The absence of objects and images renders the work more dependent on the mind of the viewer for its completion. Kosuth’s 1967 Art as Idea as Idea similarly replaced painting with a written definition of a painting, thus usurping the power of the institution to determine what is art. In this groundbreaking series, Kosuth dealt with the notion of a precious artwork as a mere idea defined by the cultural elite and handed down to the general public. The challenge he posed, blazed the trail for Mouraud’s text-based questioning of the role of the museum.

Adopting the museum as her subject, Mouraud takes a critical and analytical look at its ideology and its social structure by disrupting the system and altering the role of the artist in the museum. Refusing the position of a silent, passive creator of art to be displayed and collected, she relates to the collection in a dynamic way. Her active role mimics that of the curator, yet unlike a curator, who is bound by the institution, she has no connection to the actual works of art or need to show them. By presenting excerpts from the collection archives, she raises questions as to why certain works have been collected, first by the museum and then again by the artist herself. With A Collection, Mouraud addresses issues of taste, ideology, and audience—issues that are of primary concern for a museum assembling a collection of contemporary art.

An extraordinary critique of abstraction, Mouraud’s colored panels create a patchwork pattern and, combined with the block letters, decorate the walls like wallpaper. Yet A Collection has little to do with decoration, and viewing the work is not a purely aesthetic experience. This provocative installation challenges the viewer to go beyond the surface and consider art as it relates to personal experience, art world conventions, public institutions, and society at large.

Mary-Kay Lombino
Curator of Exhibitions


1. Interview with Jérôme Sans, quoted in Black Power, exhibition catalogue (Corbeil-Essones: Centre d’art contemporain, Centre Pablo Neruda, 1989), unpaginated.
2. Robert Fleck, Tania Mouraud, exhibition catalogue (Quimper: Quartier, Centre d’art contemporain, 1996), 12.
3. Louise Dompierre, Tania Mouraud, exhibition catalogue (Toronto: Power Plant, 1992), 7.

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