The connections between play and culture are manifold, offering a wealth of possibilities with regard to understanding and interpreting contemporary societies. Besides offering distraction and forgetfulness, play is based on rules that are agreed on by its participants. In analogy with everyday life, it can therefore be said to illustrate the very principles of life in society. Play brings people together and thus acts as a fundamental constituent of society: ‘To the degree that he is influenced by play, man can check the monotony, determinism, and brutality of nature. He learns to construct order, conceive economy, and establish equity.’1. The classification established by the French sociologist Roger Caillois in 1958 revolves around the potential of play to contaminate all spheres of society. It identifies competition, chance, simulation and vertigo as the four types of play common to all societies throughout the ages and across the world.
The fact that it provides participants with the possibility to create freely and instantly within the boundaries of a set of chosen rules makes play a fascinating social phenomenon that has inspired some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. From Matisse, Picasso and Duchamp to Juan Gris, Magritte, Man Ray and Max Ernst, numerous artists have manifested their passion for chess in painting, photography or sculpture, some even practicing the game as a competition. The product of chance, Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages (1913–14) marks the transition in his work from painting to readymade. Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet (1926), Futurist marionette plays and the photographs of Claude Cahun or Cindy Sherman each illustrate in their own way a taste for simulation. Finally, the merry-go-rounds, turnstiles, obstacle courses and swings in the playgrounds conceived by Isamu Noguchi, Allan Kaprow, Enzo Mari, Palle Nielsen, Rosemarie Trockel and Cady Noland aim to trigger a dizzying sense of vertigo.
Many artists whose works feature in the collection of the FRAC Champagne-Ardenne explore different facets of play, including Saâdane Afif, Simon & Tom Bloor, Stéphane Calais, Claude Closky, Pauline Curnier-Jardin, Jimmie Durham, Robert Filliou, Raymond Hains, Pierre Joseph, Florence Jung, Laurent Montaron, Joanna Piotrowska, Laure Prouvost, Robin Rhode, Sara Sadik, Pilvi Takala and Mükerrem Tuncay. The presence of these works in the collection bears testimony to the close connections between this theme and the Champagne-Ardenne region, from the creation of the magazine Le Grand Jeu in 1928 by four high-school students from Reims who were close to the Surrealist movement to the theory of play developed by Caillois, who was born in Reims in 1913.
The FRAC’s programmes are unequivocally dedicated to equality, diversity and the free reign of imagination.
- Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games (1958), trans. Meyer Barash (Urbana and Chicago : University of Illinois Press, 2001), p. 58.