Poster for the Palais de l’optique, Exposition Universelle, Paris 1900
The Petit Palais opened for the Exposition Universelle in spring 1900 (as did the Grand Palais and the Pont Alexandre III), making it the perfect location for Paris 1900, a sumptuous aesthetic exploration of the Belle Époque.
The exhibition opens with early film footage, taken by the Lumière brothers, of visitors ascending the steps to the Petit Palais in 1900, all cinched waists, hats and parasols. Film footage punctuates the exhibition throughout, often displayed in mirrored passages which capture something of the whirling excitement of the time. In one film, visitors even hop on and off a moving walkway between exhibition sites (any modern-day visitor to Paris who has the misfortune to pass through blighted Châtelet or Montparnasse will say moving walkways in Paris 2014 have lost some of their je ne sais quoi).
The Bill Viola retrospective in Paris is the first major video art exhibition to be held in a national museum of France. In the hands of Viola there is something elemental to this high-tech medium. The dark galleries of the Grand Palais are illuminated by videos of water, fire, weather and universal human experience.
Strengthlessness is Ivan Argote’s second solo show at Perrotin’s Marais gallery. Not bad going for an artist just 30 years-young. His previous show in 2011, Caliente, was a refreshing mix of youth, rebelliousness and humour (reviewed here). It was a joy to see such a successful gallery give so much space to a young talent.
Strengthlessness by contrast seems sterile and uninteresting. The largest piece is a sculpture of a flacid obelisk, entitled Hangover and Extasy. The allusions are obvious but the massive concrete and gold leaf sculpture has little impact on the viewer. In another room, a 3 minute video “Blind Kittens” sees lion statues brought to life in a bizarre animation. Symbols of power subverted? Maybe but there is something cringeworthy about this clumsy allegory. According to the blurb Argote’s “naivety is false”, if so then what are the depths behind this naive front?
Help me out here! Go see for yourselves: Strengthlessness is on at Galerie Perrotin until 01/03/14
Not sure what to make of Lady Gaga being in the Louvre (her take on David’s Death of Marat is in one of the busiest intersections behind the Mona Lisa and between the large format French masters) but you have to admire her taking dressing up to another level. And her ability to stand/lie still – you don’t realise her version of Ingres’ Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière is a video until you see it disconcertingly blink.
Lady Gaga 2013/ Ingres, Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière, 1806
Lady Gaga 2013 / Andrea Solario, Head of John the Baptist, 1507
Anywhere, Anywhere, Out of the World, Philippe Parreno’s show at the Palais de Tokyo is a weird experience. The artist tackles the very idea of an exhibition, seeing the whole as a work of art rather than a collection of pieces. The show begins at the entrance, with Marquee, a light awning above the door, takes in the ticket desk, also reconfigured into a wall of light for the exhibition and continues on the ground floor and on into parts of the cavernous basement.
The different spaces are divided by walls of video, dark then light, warm then cold, with moving walls and bookcases and flickering lights (no warning for epileptics but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is sensitive to flashing lights…). One piece, Danny La Rue, is a completely dark room with light sculptures which flash on and off in a rhythm programmed by the music of Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka. Four automated pianos, also playing Petrushka, punctuate the space.
Movement, snow, unexpected snippets of performance and a lack of wall texts or explanation makes you feel you may have fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole. The visitor is part of this “choreography”, only nobody has been told the dance moves. A baffling and amusing exhibition-experience.
Philippe Parreno: Anywhere, Anywhere, Out of the World is on at the Palais de Tokyo until 12/01/14
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