Table archaeology: unearthing the picture trap

june 04, 2010.

Earlier this week, quite unexpectedly, I had the good luck to meet Daniel Spoerri in the park of the Domaine du Montcel in Jouy-en-Josas, a small commune in the green and peaceful countryside south-west of Paris.

It was 27 years ago, on April 23rd 1983, that the Swiss artist invited 120 friends and acquaintances ( * ) from the art-world to come to that same park and join him in a ritual celebration of the end of the picture trap, with a lavish banquet of tripe, veal lungs, smoked udders, trotters and pigs' ears: le déjeuner sous l'herbe, à l'occasion de l'enterrement du tableau-piège. (Click on the left picture below to study the menu)
At the end, indicated by Spoerri, all got up and the tables with all that was on them were dumped in a 40 meters long trench (each of the 20 tables was 2 meters long), dug especially for the occasion by a bulldozer. (Click on the right picture below for a closer look at the trench)
Then the trench was filled up again. The picture trap had been buried.

menu enterrement

This first week of June 2010 a dedicated team of archaeologists from the INRAP, the French national institute for rescue archaeology, set up its camp in the Montcel park to excavate the picture trap's burial site. The meticulous unearthing of the site of the 1983 Dejeuner sous l'herbe is the core of a remarkable interdisciplinary project by the ad hoc Société du Déterrement du Tableau-Piège, initiated by Bernard Müller, an anthropologist specializing in the study of the performing arts. The SDTP unites specialists from several disciplines. Each brings its own specific questions to the excavation and will therefore look at its outcome from a different angle. The combined view - art/history, archaeology, anthropology, sociology - promises that eventually the resulting discourse on and around this 1983 performance will be ... well, interesting ... at the very least. Something to look forward to. For the French archaeologists, btw, the action appears to also be a practical primer in the fine discipline of garbage archaeology ( ** ).

I would have missed the event (which, obviously, intersects with quite a number of my interests), were it not for a tip I got from Rébus, which eventually made that, with the kind help and directions of Bernard (who told me that Spoerri would only be there until wednesday), and guided by a bright spring sunshine, in the early afternoon of June 2nd I made my way by RER to Jouy-en-Josas.


Much earlier already there had been the idea to try and dig up the rests of the Déjeuner sous l'herbe. It should have happened a couple of years later in the 1980s, with the help of an archaeologist-friend of Spoerri's, Bernard Müller explained. But then that particular archeologist stopped being an archeologist (he became a monk), and the years passed. In 1984 the Domaine du Montcel became the seat of the Fondation Cartier for contemporary art, and Spoerri's buried déjeuner, quite by chance, became an oeuvre hidden in the Fondation's backyard. In 1993 Cartier moved to the Boulevard Raspail in Paris. The rests of the 1983 banquet, of course, remained there where they had been dug in ten years before...

To unearth the Déjeuner sous l'herbe now, more than a quarter of a century later is surely even more interesting than it would have been just a mere three or four years after the original performance. Bernard Müller's initiative therefore met with - as he puts it - Spoerri's 'amused support'. Under the condition, however, that the excavation would indeed be undertaken with expertise and scientific rigor.

spoerri à Jouy

I made a little uTube showing that rigorous- and meticulously indeed the archaeologists went about unearthing the remains. Note the fine schroenkkk-zschroenkkkk-sounds the researchers are producing, as they go about scratching off the layers of dust and soil with their tools! The video will also give you an impression of the fantastic Domaine du Montcel and the somewhat deplorable state of its main building that these days again stands empty and abandoned, attending a next use and users. The two monumental sculptures you see towards the end of the clip are César's Hommage à Eiffel (1985, made from metal pieces that were removed from the Eiffel towel during its restoration in the first half of the 1980s) and Arman's Long Term Parking (1982, a nearly 20 meters high accumulation of about 60 - real - cars embedded in concrete). These were commanded by Jean Hamon, a French real estate developer and arts patron who in the early 1980s owned the Montcel park and castle.

Both Arman and César were among the Déjeuner sous l'herbe's guests in 1983.

It's interesting to see this ambitious project of the SDTP being realized more or less simultaneously with A Table!'s Re:Carcassonne table. A fine example of synchronicity :-) ... Despite the evident differences in scale and intention both are clearly related. Both combine elements of work and play and place themselves in their divers manifestations on a gliding scale between these two. On that scale, I'd place the SDTP mostly on the 'work'-side though, whereas A Table! went out there to 'play' ...

For play, that is what musicians do, now don't they?


[ logo'Re: Table. Rezzing Daniel Spoerri's 1961 Carcassonne table' is the complete manual to A Table!'s reconstruction play, of course with many elaborate and erudite footnotes. In 2 essays and 1 'new realist' play, I explain in 'Re: Table' why A Table!'s performances are dual to the picture-traps, what became of room number 13 in the Hotel de Carcassonne, and how A Table! went about rezzing the Carcassonne table. ]

SoundBlog entries related to our 2010 reconstruction of Daniel Spoerri's Carcassone table:

(june 06, 2013) - A Carcassonne Yodel in Blue [Kunsttour 2013]
(december 24, 2011) - Touching Base
(april 19, 2011) - (Topographic [Table) Topographique]
(september 26, 2010) - Bonjour Schiphorst! Farewell Blue Vase! [and then i joined the avantgarde {iii}]
(august 10, 2010) - Shake your booty (on the workfloor) [and then i joined the avantgarde {ii}]
(july 18, 2010) - From (h)ear to avantgarde
(june 10, 2010) - A kitchen table and a game of cards [KT2010, ii]
(june 04, 2010) - Table archaeology: unearthing the picture trap
(may 18, 2010) - Instant coffee and (b)[re](a)d wine (the Spoerri re:Table in Extrapool, Nijmegen)
(may 13, 2010) - attention! oeuvre d atable
(july 08, 2009) - Cover thyself ( * ) Petit tour de table, grande bouffe [iii]

notes __ ::
(*) This is the number mentioned on the SDTP's website (june 4th 2010). Other sources say there were 80 guests, again others speak of 100. Whatever the precise number was, there were many :-) ... Here are the names of "Déjeuner sous l'herbe" guests that I spotted in some of the divers recent news clippings on the Montcel excavation: Arman, Marie-Claude Beaud, Christian Bourgois, César, Erro, Peter Knapp & mrs. Knapp, Bernard Lamarche-Vadel, Catherine Millet, Pierre Nahon, Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Pierre Restany, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Niki de Saint Phalle, Marie-Claire Schaeffer, Pierre Soulages, Daniel Templon. [ ^ ]
(**) See William Rathje en Cullen Murphy's Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage (University of Arizona Press, 2001) [ ^ ]

tags: Daniel Spoerri, Jouy-en-Josas, SDTP

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june 03, 2010.


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