Happy surprise

In the space of half a century, Daniel Buren, the bright spark behind the multi-hued cube that beckons visitors into the Pompidou Centre at Malaga Port, like a beacon or landmark, has become France's flagship artist, par excellence.

Paris has the Eiffel Tower and Malaga - or should that be “Marca Málaga”, the Costa del Sol's brand-new contemporary art Eldorado? - has El Cubo by Buren, who has also applied his magic touch to a unique visual experience, specially created for the Paris museum's 40th anniversary.

A series of kaleidoscopic projections to be seen at Malaga's Pompidou Centre until 14 January provides a welcome break from last minute festive shopping.

On the weekend I picked for my fly-on-the-wall visit, the centre was packed. Admission to the semi-permanent collection on loan from Paris for two years was free. Families, in neatly-pressed Sunday best, stood in line queuing to catch a glimpse of the outgoing inaugural display spotlighting The Body, The Portrait, Self-Portraits, before it was replaced by the current thematic overview focusing on Modern Utopias.

Only a handful had come to see Daniel Buren's temporary show, but those who did decide to 'enter the maze' were in for an unexpected psychedelic thrill, and I have to say that I too was happily surprised.

Why surprised? Why was I dragging my steps, as I watched that long winding queue of eager tourists and locals enter, after placing their bags on the centre's streamlined wooden security scanner? Perhaps, because Buren struck me as an unsurprising choice...

Almost as famous as ubiquitous 'starchitect' Jean Nouvel, this soon-to-be octogenarian 'avantg'artist' has acquired a degree of global visibility that makes young(er) French artists turn green with envy.

The artist formerly known for his vertical-striped canvases taking their cue from the classic awning cloth, which graces the windows of Parisian stately buildings - Daniel Buren's trademark “visual tool” discovered at a flea market, back in the sixties - is a living monument to the impact of cultural diplomacy à la française.

Fast-rewind to 1977. The unveiling of the Pompidou Centre - better known to Parisians as “Beaubourg” - heralded the rise of a coterie of contemporary artists, bearing the seal of approval of world-class curators. Among the freshly anointed, Buren had displayed six of his striped banners at the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, today's Modern Art Oxford, at the behest of future “Most Influential”, “Nick” Serota, aka Sir Nicholas Serota, who went on to revolutionise the Tate.

Daniel Buren made a quantum leap towards pyramidal success under the impetus of President Mitterrand's flamboyant minister of Culture Jack Lang. In 1986, he was the Artist of The Year. Given the reins of the French pavilion at the Venice Biennale, he won the Golden Lion, whilst his first public commission - the black and white-striped columns he conceived for the courtyard of the Palais-Royal, a stone's throw from the Louvre... - sparked a media controversy of a rare magnitude, considering social networks had not yet been invented.

Maybe I'm not the only one to have developed a jaded view of 'The Buren of Things', but Hey! Look At What I Almost Missed!

Daniel Buren's site-specific concepts are about the process of entering an artwork, and the space in which it is shown: in this case, a windowless basement, with bare anonymous walls. Undaunted by the lack of light and unwelcoming atmosphere, he has on this occasion immersed the onlooker in a floor-to-ceiling “dark room” environment, treating the public to a giant magic lantern-like slideshow.

This XXL 'lightshow' turns out to be a two-step experiment, and I for one entered it twice.

Cautiously, almost fearful of the glossy black floor and matching walls... I stepped into the first room, presided over by a red and white square, emblazoned with a mix of geometric motifs and lines, before suddenly realising that I had to turn back, and retrace my steps. Why, silly me? Because - surprise, surprise...! - the projections on the square arch leading into that first room are linked to the piece inside. Buren makes us look again.

“How are we supposed to react?” was written all over the faces of a group of 'art consumers' leaning against one of the walls, in an ostensibly relaxed posture, as they observed a permanent stream of syncopated abstract images, ranging from lines reminiscent of zebra crossings to colourful target symbols.

In contrast, a little girl with pigtails and a pink T-shirt needed no prompting to immerse herself in the artwork. Warming to the whirl of colour, she broke into a spontaneous dance, rockin' and reelin' with an invisible hula-hoop.

My advice: Don't think twice. Just dive in!