Pierre Huyghe claims his work is not performance art. But curators would struggle to hang it on gallery walls, or display it in an institutional space.
At the new Pompidou show, a maze-like scenography of strangely-placed partitions plunges us into somebody else’s imagination (the artist’s? the collective’s?) Film projections; a black ice rink; a fish tank with a hermit crab living inside Brancusi’s Muse Endormi; what looks like a disco floor suspended from the ceiling; and rain, snow and fur coats in corners all form part of the rich and bizarre tapestry. The fur coats turn out to be more functional than formal – comfortable resting places for ‘Human’, a white greyhound with one pink leg who appeared in the original Untilled and lopes around the exhibition in the flesh.
Marc Chagall, View from the window in Zaolchie near Vitebsk, 1915
Anyone looking for the romance of Paris in the springtime this year will have been hard pushed to find it through the cold and driving rain.
With the winter chill still in my bones I was recently shaken out of my hibernation gloom by two very different exhibitions that gave a warm glow to my sun-starved mood: Chagall between war and peace at the Musée de Luxembourg and Ron Mueck at the Fondation Cartier.
The first three paintings of the Chagall show (the section entitled “Bella”, the name of his first wife) are brimming with love. View from the window in Zaolchie near Vitebsk (1915), a lush green composition, combines elements picked up from modernist movements Chagall encountered in Paris with something unmistakably Russian (the trees are reminiscent of Ivan Shishkin‘s forest landscapes). The meditative deep green of this painting and the domestic scene hanging to its left, Bella and Ida by the window, are profoundly peaceful paintings. On the right, The Lovers (1916 – 17), seems to go further, with emotion overspilling into that tragic yearning of a first love. Painted during the first World War, Bella’s startled expression also forewarns us of the horrors of war in contrast to the otherwise blissful lovers who appear alone in the world as if in a dream.
Marc Chagall, The Lovers, 1916 – 1917
The exhibition moves on chronologically to works on paper during WW1, with angular figures and almost caricatured peasants and soldiers. The later paintings become more dreamlike and oscillate between violent scenes of crucifixions and bright blue fantasies. The exhibition is not a one stop love in (see title) but that’s what makes it such a touching body of work: love, war, mourning, peace…
Australian artist Ron Mueck concentrates a similarly dazzling array of human emotion in his hyper-realist sculptures. The ground floor of the Fondation Cartier is dominated by Couple under an Umbrella, an up-scaled woman sitting under a beach umbrella with her husband lying, head propped up on her thigh. The details are incredibly realistic and the larger than life pair take on an almost uncanny aura. Visitors get close to inspect believable hair follicles, freckles and veins that look as if they risk becoming varicose, then step back suddenly as if close contact might wake the gentle giants. This eery realism is enhanced by the very tender gestures of the couple, the woman looking down at her husband, while he gently holds her upper arm. They are the picture of a content old couple. The banality of the scene doesn’t match the monumentality of the scale but that’s what makes it so disarming. That disjunction, plus the sagging flesh and rough feet, save the sculpture from sentimentality.
Ron Mueck, Couple under an Umbrella, 2013
Mueck’s background in model-making and special effects is evident in the minute attention to detail but there is more to his sculptures than realistic model making. Each sculptures projects a multitude of potential references and possible narratives. A stout woman carrying a bundle of sticks (who appears on the exhibition poster) is like something out of a fairystory, while another, careworn woman with baby in a sling and a couple of very realistic Sainsbury’s bags looks like she’s been plucked directly off the bus and doesn’t have the wherewithal to figure out what to do next.
For a half hour waiting in line outside you only get 9 sculptures. This may seem measly but a 52 minute video documenting Mueck’s work process (projected downstairs in the exhibition) reveals the amount of time and painstaking care that goes into each sculpture.
Also downstairs, a sculpture of a youth investigating a wound in his ribs was apparently inspired by Caravaggio’s Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Hardly surprising, Caravaggio shocked his 16th century audience with his earthy realism and lack of regard for idealized beauty, Mueck shocks us with the raw fleshiness of unadorned nudity in all its goose-pimply glory .
Dark Romanticism may not be easy to define but strolling through the Orsay’s exhibition devoted to the theme you definitely get a feel for it: creepy, macabre, melodramatic, gothic and often tinged with the erotic. The show begins with the early 19th century Romantics, runs through late 19th century Symbolism and ends with the Surrealists, punctuated throughout by clips of early black and white film. Thus the iconography and shadowy interior of Johann Heinrich Füssli’s Nightmare (1781) reappears in Frankenstein (US, 1931) or Dracula (also US, 1931), and the baron landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings resonate in clips from Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (Germany, 1926) and La Chute de la maison Usher (France, 1928).
Amongst the later 19th century offerings we see less high melodrama and more solitude (Pierre Bonnard, James Ensor), and death personified as in a Medieval Danse Macabre. Gauguin’s Madame La Mort picks up the implicit thematic thread of women as evil/dangerous/unpredictable, while Mort au bal by Felicien Rops, literally a skeleton dressed up for a ball, is almost comical.
Félicien Rops, La Mort au Bal, c. 1865 – 1875
There are some weird connections to be made between the sections. For example, between odd-ball 19th century painter-turned-photographer Charles-François Jeandel and German surrealist Hans Bellmer. After failing as a painter, Jeandel retired from Paris to the Charente region in the West of France. It was not until after his death that his experiments in erotic photography came to light (pun intended). The photos, bathed in an eerie blue glow from the development process (they are cyanotypes, a DIY process which allowed Jeandel to keep his dark desires to himself), show women in ropes, trussed up, suspended and forced into uncompromising poses. They hark back to the Marquis de Sade’s erotic writing but also foreshadow the surreal compositions of Hans Bellmer’s Poupée (“Doll”) where dismembered body parts (of a doll) become semi-abstract compositions.
Charles-François Jeandel, Femme nue, de trois quarts dos, attachée, 1890-1900
Hans Bellmer, La Poupée, 1936
The show also includes a good dose of fantasy (drawings by Victor Hugo, plates from Goya’s wonderful series of etchings Los Caprichos); witches (Edvard Munch, Pail Elie Ranson); mythology à la Gustave Moreau; cannibalism (Gericault’s studies for the Raft of the Medusa); and visions of hell (Goya’s more chilling series, Los Desastras de la Guerra, Bouguereau’s Dante and Virgil in Hell ). A great antidote to the sun-dappled and snow-dusted Impressionist landscapes upstairs.
L’Ange du Bizarre (“The Angel of the Odd”) is on at the Musée d’Orsay until 09/06/13
For the second year running the majority of the action takes place at the Grand Palais (previously the galleries’ stands were divided between the Grand Palais and the Cour Carrée du Louvre). The volume and concentration of art, wealth, little black dresses and champagne flutes under one roof make for an effervescent, devil-may-care atmosphere. That said, the organisers are keen to question art’s relationship to money this year, with a series of seminars on the subject of “value” (intellectual and commercial) taking place around the city (more details here).
At the opening last night visitors swarmed around a moving sculpture by Elias Crespin (Galerie Denise René), a sort of ethereal dancing mobile; a garish sculpture of George Bush with pigs by Paul McCarthy (Hauser & Wirth) and The Incomplete Truth, a Damien Hirst dove in formaldehyde (White Cube).
Elias Crespin (Denise René)
Damian Hirst (White Cube)
With over 180 French and international exhibitors and a good mix of well-established galleries (Marian Goodman, Yvon Lambert, White Cube, Kamel Mennour…) international contemporary art titans (Gagosian) and relative newcomers (Samy Abraham, Crèvecoeur) plus sculptures in the Tuileries, the Place Vendôme, the Esplanade des Invalides AND the Jardin des Plantes, there is a lot to see. Hurry on down!
Adel Abdessemed’s new show, Je suis innocent (“I am innocent”) is something of a rarity. Unlike many contemporary shows, where artists use large scale or shock tactics in a vain attempt to make an impact, Je suis innocent actually does provoke a fundamentally visceral reaction. The exhibition, in the South Gallery of the Pompidou Centre, is not enormous, nor is it particularly coherent, but the overall effect of the work is striking.
A series of spaces showing videos of: a naked man playing the flute (Joueur de flûte, 1996), a foot crushing a lemon (Pressoir, fais-le, 2002), a woman suckling a piglet (Lise, 2012) and a horrifying display of animals trying to annihilate each other (Usine, 2008) [this reaction coming from an urbanite who is at best, ambivalent about animals] leads to a grisly tableau of charred stuffed animals (Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, 2011-2012) . The effect of this taxidermic ensemble is not delicate and ephemeral (like here) but violent and raw, teeth gnashing and beady eyes twinkling. In the same space is a small, painted vision of paradise by Abdessemed, an incarnation of hell (by a 16/17th century (?) artist) and a video of a performance of couples having sex in front of an audience. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, leaving the visitor feeling like they’ve wandered into a twisted, after-dark version of Grimm’s fairy-tales, where fantastical desires meet bleak outcomes.
Adel Abdessemed, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?, 2011-2012
The large open space of the exhibition is dominated by Décor (2011-2012) a line of crucified Christs, inspired by a Grünewald altarpiece and modeled out of contorted razor wire; Hope, a boat filled with bin bags evoking the abominable conditions and treatment of immigrants; and three burnt out cars made out of terracotta (Practice Zero Tolerance, 2006) inspired by the riots which broke out in the Paris suburbs at the end of 2005.
There has been some talk of Abdessemed, at 41, being young for such an honour as a solo show at Beaubourg. The curatorial choice has also come under some criticism as Abdessemed appears prominently in the collection of influential collector François Pinault. But come on people! 41 is hardly the first flushes of youth. And perhaps that’s just what the Pompidou Centre needs, maybe they should think about shaking up the hierarchy a little more often.
Also showing is a (dare I say, very staid and respectful) retrospective of Bertrand Lavier (Bertrand Lavier depuis 1969) and a small show by Mircea Cantor, winner of the 2011 Prix Marcel Duchamp.
Adel Abdessemed, Je suis innocent, Bertrand Lavier Depuis 1969 and Mircea Cantorare on until 07/01/13 at the Pompidou Centre
Emmanuel Perrotin starts this autumn season with a muted bang, bringing us three subtle and contemplative solo shows in his Marais gallery. Impressive, as Perrotin is known for representing some of the “louder” international contemporary artists. Currently there are no fluorescent colours or monumental installations, instead the mood is in turn sombre (Sophie Calle), disquietingly playful (Klara Kristalova) and subtly humourous (Hernan Bas).
Sophie Calle, from La Dernière Image, 2010
Like much of Sophie Calle‘s work, her new solo show, comprising La Dernière Image (‘The Last Image’, 2010) and Voir la mer (2011) has a strong narrative element, merging art, personal experience and reportage. The Last Image documents Calle’s meetings with blind people in Istanbul, where she asked them to describe the last thing they saw before they went blind. The stories range from the expected (the eye surgeon) to the intimate (one woman describes her husband) and the violent (a taxi driver describes a horrific run in with another driver). Portraits of the people are juxtaposed with their stories and photographs giving an impression of their last image.
Klara Kristalova, from Wild Thought
Swedish artist Klara Kristalova works in ceramics to create her own fairytale world of fantasy and mystery. The naive sculptures of children and animals are cute but with enough of a weird edge to conjure up memories of the more gruesome childhood tales (grandma being cut out of a wolf’s stomach while he wears her shawl, that kind of thing).
In the Impasse Saint Claude gallery is a series of delicate portraits of “unknown poets” by artist Hernan Bas. The small scale portraits are in acrylic, gold leaf and graphite on gold dusted paper and are all of melancholy, or even slightly tortured, young men. They are both modern – with nods to contemporary fashion – and at the same time reminiscent of Klimt or Schiele in their angular compositions and swirly decorative backdrops. There is even an air of Baudelaire and his 19th century bohemian cohorts as captured in early photographs. The title (Thirty-six Unknown Poets (or, decorative objects for the homosexual home)), while exploring the relationship between art and decor, gives the whole show a delicious sense if it not taking itself too seriously.
Sophie Calle, Pour la dernière et pour le première fois
Klara Kristalova, Wild Thought
Hernan Bas, Thirty-six Unknown Poets (or, decorative objects for the homosexual home)
Internationally acclaimed Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco is back in Paris with not one but two solo exhibitions. Galerie Marian Goodman presents Shade Between Rings of Air, a sculptural mass created for the Venice Biennale in 2003. Installed on the ground floor of the gallery, the piece – designed to reflect Carlo Scarpa‘s sculpture La Pensilina at the Italian Pavilion – tranforms the classic white cube into complex pockets of space and light. Downstairs the circular forms are emulated in the video Solivitur Boomerando, in which the artist repeatedly throws a boomerang from the edge of a circular pool out towards the sea. According to the press release throwing a boomerang is one of the artist’s “favorite activities in recent years”, which he considers “an extension of his artistic practice”. Nice work if you can get it. The beautiful location, a house designed by Orozco on the Pacific coast of Mexico, also appears in a collage of photos.
The first impression of the tandem show – entitled Panta Rhei – at Galerie Chantal Crousel is that of being amongst something much less structured, at least in a geometric sense. The main space of the gallery is taken up with Roiseaux, willowy hanging sculptures made of bamboo and feathers that linger somewhere between animal and vegetable. Also on display are Metonymies, diptychs of photos, and Orthocenter, a new series of terracottas (some of the same series can be found in the Goodman exhibition).
This weekend is the 23rd edition of the Porte ouvertes des ateliers d’artistes de Belleville, the event where artists working around the vibrant area of Belleville open their studios to the general public. Over 200 artists are participating and the programme includes debates, workshops and concerts. More details including a map of exhibitors here.
The doors are open from 11/05/12 (today!) until 14/05/12, 2pm – 9pm
The Great Exposition hasn’t always wholeheartedly supported the Palais de Tokyo’s endeavours (we were disappointed here and here) but we are still sad to have missed the grand opening of the newly restored Palais, with its added 14 000 square metres of exhibition space.
Newton has been accused of misogyny in the past. While it could be argued that the women in his photographs are objectified, they are treated like magnificent objects, and along with everything else in his compositions are carefully staged and dramatically lit. They are an impressive presence in a thoroughly recherché setting. In the “Big Nudes” series, inspired by German terrorist identity shots, his models dominate the space, they are strong and monumental, like modern day Venuses.
In the documentary Helmut by June (also on show, although hard to get in as the auditorium is a little poky) made by June Newton, Helmut’s wife of 56 years and co-curator of the show, Newton gives his verdict on what he calls “shrinking violet women”, “they give me the creeps” he says. The film, which follows Newton at work in LA, Miami and Monte Carlo, sheds some light on his working practice and Newton, the man. He is not a sleaze bag (or a “monster” as June has heard him called) but comes across as professional, rigorous (even strict with his models) and not without humour. He uses the models as a sculptor uses his raw materials or directs them as a film director would an actor. The results are sexy and risqué (he was dubbed “King of Kink” by Time magazine) but the process is professional and his women appear liberated rather than exploited.
Helmut Newton is on at the Grand Palais, Southeast Gallery until 17/06/12