Going Places

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IN LATE FEBRUARY, a group of art collectors, curators and financiers gathered on a train platform in St. Moritz, the moneyed resort town in the Swiss Alps. They were there to see some art, but they weren’t told what kind of art it would be. The invitation to “What Could Happen,” a project by the elusive French architect François Roche and his partner Camille Lacadee in collaboration with the artist Pierre Huyghe, promised an “experimental expedition” to a frozen lake on a vintage 1910 train. All other details were kept secret and even those with intimate knowledge of what would happen struggled to describe it.

Michèle Lamy, the wife of the designer Rick Owens, had volunteered to provide food for the trip. She suggested calling it a journey. “A ‘performance’ has a different sense in French,” she explained. “And ‘happening’ makes it sound back in time.”

“But it’s so much more than an expedition,” said Maja Hoffmann, an art philanthropist and the event’s chief sponsor. “It’s really a voyage into another dimension.”

Or as Lacadee, Roche’s beautiful, stoic collaborator, put it, “It’s called ‘What Could Happen’ — so that’s what you call it . . . you will understand what is happening once it happens.”

As peculiar as this sounded, Roche and Lacadee aren’t the first to abduct the art crowd on a mysterious excursion. The latest in a recent wave of transient art pieces, “What Could Happen” called to mind Doug Aitken’s 2013 “Station to Station” project, which had the artist sending a “kinetic-light-sculpture” train rolling cross-country, staging performances by various artists along the way, and Matthew Barney’s “River of Fundament,” a film project for which the artist invited an audience on a barge ride down the Detroit River and entertained them by dredging a 1967 Chrysler Crown Imperial out of the water. As microproductions with their own actors and directors, these happenings expand on a genre known as relational art, which turns viewers into an integral part of the work, and often leaves nothing behind but the memory of the experience. And yet art excursions take that idea one step further. They’re not just fleeting in a temporal sense — they’re literally on the move.