Category Archives: UK

Shows in the UK

What you won’t discover about British painting here (but other things)…

Original text by Lunettes Rouges, translation by Miss XS

After British sculpture at the Royal Academy, contemporary British art is on at Saatchi (until the 17th of April). The first edition was not very stimulating; the second is hardly any better, at least where painting was concerned (i.e. 2/3 of the 150 artworks presented by 60 artists). The paintings shown here are overall pathetically banal. But there are some beautiful discoveries to be made; the first room contains three ‘bodily’ sculptures by Juliana Cerqueira Leite that are amazing because they translate the struggle and imprint of the artist’s body against the material. She enters into a clay mass contained in a box, where she paves a path using her body. Descending in Down, suspended as if on a climbing wall, digging and turning on herself, she leaves an imprint of her feet, knees, breasts or buttocks –we don’t really know which – in clay; the white plaster cast of the cavity, quite deep, is suspended from the ceiling. In contrast, she climbs upwards in Up, in this clay mass above her, where she digs a lair closer to her body with her fingers, pushing the clay towards the bottom, leaving traces of vertical drippings; the black plaster casting is placed on the ground. These are sculptures that bear total physicality,  closest to the body- but that hardly reveal the forms of the artist’s naked body if not for a fleeting moment- a recognisable extremity such as a finger or a toe. Another difference with 19th Century plaster casts where immobility had to be absolute (see the craquelure of Présidente Sabatier that gently moved), is the movement that is transcribed here, a crawling movement, one of escape, quasi-animal, but one that also induces a certain feeling of panic (or a certain Houdini-like exhilaration). These abandoned pupa, these mineral traces of a body that manufactured and occupied them but is no longer, these transpositions at the body’s scale of a funeral mask that would have been made during the agony, translating the ultimate convulsions- are also very sexual forms. A black cassock penis pricked up towards the sky, a white vagina suspended from the ceiling like a single-flower vase, and the spectator’s body is subjected to confront this rather dizzily. It is symptomatic that in the gallery of artist profiles, Juliana is the only one whose face is not shown in her biographical portrait (a beautiful face, though, that you can discover in this video), but only her tattooed naked back and the nape of her neck pushed into the clay are visible : this is an artist at work in the midst of other artists posing, a naked artist in the midst of clothed artists, an artist whose face is concealed in the midst of the smiling faces of colleagues and peers.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite’s third sculpture is also an exploration of space with her body, an attempt to occupy, here, the largest amount of space without moving. Inside a clay cube, the artist frees her vital space, as far as her limbs can spread out, as far as she can touch. She obtains a volume that is more or less spherical, and of which ‘Oh’ is the imprint in latex. As much as the other two pieces were about submission towards constraint and attempts to survive, this piece, in contrast, is  a manifestation of voluntary deliberation to occupy the largest amount of space possible. This sort of physicality, ever-present in the field of performance, translates very rarely in sculptural artworks, and I found this body of work extremely passionate; and as a result, I regret not having seen the Physical Centre festival, of which Juliana Crequeira Leite was one of the organisers .

After this initial shock, the rest seemed a little dull: the superimpositions of the Bechers’ photographs by Idriss Khan are ingenious- the work of a creative art historian, much like the a posteriori research according to Ivan Lermolieff’s identification techniques applied in industrial architecture; freeing the essential elements of a composition by comparison and superimposition, revealing the very own essence of Becher photography (did they give their agreement? I doubt it, they [the Bechers] could have seen this as a denaturalisation of the purity of their work). (From left to right: Every B&H Bercher Prison Type Gasholders, Every B&H Becher Spherical Type Gasholders, Every B&H Becher Gable Sided Houses).

System House (aka Martin Fletcher) arranged this mirror-structure high up like a room-surveillance-post, like a solar panel energised by the (exhibition) visitors, or like a battery ready to bombard us with ionised rays: espionage, ecology or menace? These light and incongruous minimalistic pieces invite the spectator to be reflected- a little worrying and a little narcissistic.

I once again note the beautiful photos on memory and time by the intense Clarisse d’Arcimoles, whom I had noticed at the Photographer’s gallery, pursuing a powerful work on temporality- at the frontier between public and private, between modesty and unveiling, between history and fiction. Also, the medieval sculpture by Des Hughes, seen at Frieze, remains constantly fascinating- tragically abandoned on his pedestal. Then there is the misappropriation of photography through the embroidery by Maurizio Anzeri, who presents an interesting bypass of the medium, through which ordinary images are rendered surrealist, and restore aura to photographic reproduction.

Is the author of the blog so biased and disillusioned that he won’t say a word about paintings ? Yes, here is one, Tasha Amini whose five little hyper-surrealist paintings play with hair, exploring its mystery and eroticism. The forms she draws erase and dilute themselves, and she invites the viewer in a discreet intimacy, at a close proximity to the very essence of beauty itself- all whilst anchored to a line that extends from Duchamp to the Futurists and Surrealists, and even Picasso (Untitled paintings from 2006 to 2009). They bear a feminine fragility that is discreet but affirmed, and which pleases me a lot “between optimism and despair.” As much as other painters here only produce banalities, copies, plagiaries, it’s reinvigorating to see a young painter tracing her way with intelligence, sensitivity and autonomy.

Finally, the other ‘masterpiece’ of this exhibition, made to be spectacular (a little too much), is an entire wall of Peruvian funerary ‘nichos’ reconstructed by Ximena Garrido-Lecca. After the austere and heroic funerary monument by Susan Hiller, we are confronted here with a closer connection to the dead- one that is more tender, less clinical and historical. The tombs are decorated with flowers, cigarettes, and little alcohol bottles with more intimate inscriptions and pleasant portraits. The fusion of indigenous cultures and imported Catholicism is seen in each nicho– a sort of colonial syncretism that still proves difficult to come to terms with today. The importance of this installation, the vain attempt to find the proper viewpoint, to fathom all the details of the artwork, the hesitation between a global viewing or a close-up on details that are more or less inaccessible to us, especially in the higher sections, all this creates a dynamic tension and instils a frustration in the viewer- who doesn’t at all feel mortified, but rather calm and almost rejoiced by the beauty and power of this installation, he who has suffered through all the self-explanatory, reassuring paintings populating the rest of the exhibition.

Finally, on the highest level of the Saatchi gallery, Phillips de Pury’s auction house presented large installations by Chilean artists . In particular, The Duel by Josefina Guilisastian entire wall filled with 180 small still life images depicting various porcelain household objects- of which the accumulation contradicts the intimacy, of which the public exhibition opposes their private-decorative character, and of which the modernist serialisation confronts their roots in classical tradition. There is also Livia Marin’s The Missing Willow, an entire wall of porcelain plates with English replicas of Chinoiserie motifs- but where the willow tree element is missing: cut, transformation, colonial ablation, negation of weeping willows. At first glance, it’s a seemingly light-hearted artwork, but in fact, for me, it is also a complex and tough piece fuelled with politics. Strangely, I thought about Mathieu Abonnenc’s photos of lynching where the victims’ bodies have been erased, about this disappearance from history.

The British Art Show is now open at the Hayward Gallery but I won’t be able to see it. After all, will it be that different?

En français

Photos 1, 2 & 3 (Juliana Cerqueira Leite), Idriss Khan, Systems House, Tasha Amini, Josefina Guilisasti and Livia Marin by the author. Photo 4 (Julia Cerqueira Leite) and photos of Ximena Garrido-Lecca provided by the Saatchi website. All photos are © of the artists.

What you won’t learn here about British sculpture

Original text by Lunettes Rouges, translation by Miss XS

Until the 7th of April, Modern British sculpture, -just that- is the subject of exhibition at the Royal Academy. It is sometimes said that England dominated sculpture in the 20th century (versus the American domination in painting): yet I am not sure this exhibition will convince you about this. The first historical rooms are organised by blurry themes: the choice of figuration and abstraction are incarnated in a model of Whitehall’s cenotaph (an immense, overwhelming geometric structure) and photos of the statues for the British Medical Association by Jacob Epstein (just try to imagine what the allegory of Clinical Research looks like). Moving along, the second room is devoted to the inspiration by/imitation of antiques; a juxtaposition of Greek, Rapa Nuian, Amerindian sculptures amongst many more, together with modern sculptures that could have been inspired by these – but they remain very sober, without the madness of Picasso or Rodin. The next room becomes more interesting, as we face an alabaster Adam by Jacob Epstein: a pinkish sensual, and even a sexual devil, our primal, savage ancestor (this is the best picture I found, and what is this beautiful blonde woman half-smiling about in this picture?). But moving from Adam to The Establishment Figure, with Queen Victoria on her  majestic throne, is a first-class deturgescent anti-climax. Then, there are a few boring ceramics before coming to three rooms where the immense wingspan of British sculpture can really be appreciated.

We are firstly subjected to a magnificent encounter between Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. By him, in the background, is Reclining Figure- a rounded, sensual horizontal, anthropoid filled with voids and torsions. By her, in the foreground, is Single Form (Memorial)– vertical, massive, imposing flat and concave, pierced with a tragic gaping hole. The first is a symbol of the reconstruction of the country after the war, the second, an homage to Mr.H.

In the following room, the amazement when facing Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton’s installation An Exhibit (a reconstruction, as the original one had disappeared) made of more or less transparent, coloured plastic rectangular forms suspended at different heights, (and sometimes ornamented with an elementary sign such as a red circle or blue rectangle), comes from the date mentioned for this artwork: 1957. It’s without a doubt, one of the first ‘sculptural’ artworks that the public could interact with- where one is invited to walk around and penetrate within the installation itself: another example of British advancement in this field, at the very start of Installation art, and if we can call it that -relational aesthetics (or rather, participatory art).

Early One Morning by Anthony Caro (1962) is the following stage, an assembly of industrial forms in bright red stainless steel, without pedestal, but here we cannot approach it or experiment with it. We can only look at it, like the final point of a sculptural history.

The following rooms are dedicated to contemporary sculpture: there’s nothing from Anthony Gormley or Anish Kapoor. Rather, there’s a simple Stack of planks and bricks by Tony Cragg, many pieces by American sculptors (Carl Andre, Jeff Koons), and newspaper cuttings (the 3rd page of the Sun, with all teats out)- which is in fact a sculpture Gustav Metzger. The poor visitor, suffering from a somewhat confusing historio-aesthetic orientation, will only manage to remember the ‘Déjeuner sur l’Herbe’ (what’s the title of Manet’s painting in English ?lunch in the grass ?) aka Damien Hirts’s Let’s Eat Outdoors Today and his concerto of meat-flies being electrocuted, and perhaps the jubilant photography of Rose Finn-Kelcey titled The Restless Image – A Discrepancy between the Felt Position and the Seen Position – Self-portrait (no other images are available except for the one featured on the brochure), where the then thirty-year-old artist is doing a handstand on the beach: her creased skirt flies off, her face is invisible, her slender legs set against the sky seduce us, but she remind us that what we see is not what we feel…

In the courtyard of Burlington House (residence to the Royal Academy), there is a reconstructed flagstone house titled Merz Barn by Kurt Schwitters. The original Merzbarn, who can be visited in Cylinders, Elterwater, Cumbria, was an English continuation of his Merzbauten.

Perhaps, if you just want to have a beautiful sculptural experience on the day of your visit, it is enough to see Merz Barn (for free); walk around it, measure it, feel its roughness and finesse (but you may not enter it, and the wall is not here), and you won’t need to buy a ticket to this exhibition, which is too limited, too partial and deceiving (lots of controversy about it in the British press).

en français

Photo of Hirst courtesy of the Royal Academy’s press service; photos of Hepworth-Moore, Pasmore-Hamilton and Caro from the Royal Academy’s website; photo of Kurt Schwitters artwork by the author.

– Damien Hirst, Let’s Eat Outdoors Today, 1990-91 Glass, steel, cow’s head, flies, maggots, sugar, water, insect-o-cutor, resin, table and chairs, tableware, condiments and food. 221 x 411.5 x 216 cm. Photo Prudence Cuming Associates.  © Hirst Holdings Limited and Damien Hirst. All rights reserved, DACS 2010.
– Hepworth and Moore Installation view showing Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Single Form (Memorial)’ (1961-62) in the foreground and Henry Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure’ (1951) in the background. Photo: John Bodkin/DawkinsColour.
– Epstein Photo by Christopher Furlong / Getty Images Europe, November 9, 2010.
– Pasmore-Hamilton Installation view showing Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton’s ‘an Exhibit’ (1957). Photo: John Bodkin/DawkinsColour.
– Anthony Caro, ‘Early One Morning’, 1962. Painted steel and aluminium, 289.6 x 619.8 x 335.5 cm. Tate: Presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 1965. © Barford Sculptures Ltd/The artist Photo: John Bodkin/DawkinsColour.

Susan Hiller: Conceptual and Sensitive Feminist

Orginal text by Lunettes Rouges, translated by Miss XS

It’s a beautiful retrospective that the Tate Britain has devoted to Susan Hiller (until 15 May), a relatively unknown artist in France but who- since my first encounter with her work- has constantly been of interest to me. It’s a retrospective; meaning a large number of works here weren’t a new discovery for me: my only disappointment came from the fact that the J-Street project, which had really fascinated me almost six years ago, was presented here merely in the form of film– which poorly translated the obsessive, systematic, exhaustive dimension of this project that censuses, documents, photographs and films all the street names that contain the word ‘Jude’ (Jewish). The presentation of the same artwork at the Tim Taylor Gallery however, consisted of a wall with 303 photos of street-name signs, and opposite them, a systematic, classified, referenced list with a map of Germany indicating their location and an atlas book. It’s here that Susan Hiller, an ex-anthropologist, excels when she applies her methodical approach and science of classification in her art.

With this systematical furor (in which I can recognise myself), this fine and sensible conceptual approach, she takes on some dense subjects: the evanescent trace of Jews in Germany, but also the inventory of languages on the verge of extinction. Amongst these are Livonian, Lenape, Wampanoag and a whistle-language from the Canary Islands; a few words in each langage appear on a black screen, translated from the soundtrack, as traces of extras, of unknown people, forgotten by history (The Last Silent Movie); and also the piece Dedicated to the Unknown Artists– where Susan Hiller collected, collated, and classified hundreds of postcards of rough sea on the English coasts, with a lexical, visual analysis and supporting cards. An installation that she first presented at the Freud Museum in London (titled From the Freud Museum, pictured opposite) resonates with the collecting obsession of Sigmund Freud himself: it’s not solely an anchorage in history or a “Mnemosyne”, but rather an interference with this heritage, a drift of the anchor, an exhibition of ambivalences, of incomprehension, of doubt. The work consists of around ten cardboard boxes with text (from Duchamp to the History of the Jews of Frankfurt) and relics (from Amerindians, antiques, aboriginals), that speak of songs, ghosts, religions and of divination. Another emblematic piece titled Ten Months (1977), presents a series of photos of her belly during her pregnancy, taken from above, using the same point of view. They are grouped in ten (lunar) months of 28 days: a simplicity of mediums used to convey a feminist and conceptual artwork.

A segment of her work focuses on the presence of those absent amongst us. Such are the videos Psi Girls (pictured opposite) that show the paranormal abilities of five adolescents, in extracts from Hollywood films. The room dedicated to Witness is particularly impressive, as it groups hundreds of fluorescent earphones suspended from the ceiling, in a strange, obscure composition- each one diffusing audio of witnesses’ UFO-sighting stories. The audience penetrates in the half-light, navigates through the suspended wires bathed in light, and grabs an earphone at random, sometimes recognising a familiar language whilst listening to these strange paranormal accounts (image above).

The most beautiful memorial piece is a wall where there are reproductions of 40 tombstones from the end of the 19th Century, photographed in a London cemetery; each on honouring an ordinary hero- a man who sacrificed his life to save his neighbour from a fire, from drowning or from quicksand (Monument). These photographs are arranged in the form of a cross, whereby the central motif is a tag that reads: “Strive to be your own hero.” We look at this mural-installation whilst standing, surrounded by a collective of other spectators, and then we can sit alone on the bench in front, listening to an audio-track where Susan Hiller talks about death and absence. This is all done whilst turning our backs on the monument and becoming an element of the visual experience for other spectators. This installation is particularly poignant, especially because our changing of positions renders us stakeholders somehow.  Susan Hiller works a lot with voice and language: other pieces such as Sisters of Menon deals with telepathy and automated writing.

We can also see older works, where, when she abandonned painting, she destroyed her canvases, recycling them into blocks of fabric, embroidery murals or into ashes thereby creating new pieces from destroyed pieces. Many of her pieces pay homage- to Klein, Broodthaers and Duchamp. I thoroughly liked an homage to Beuys titled The Tao Water wherein a little cabinet was enclosed with bottles carefully labelled as containing sacred water from the Ganges to Lourdes (pictured opposite): the power of these sacred waters and the mystic energy they diffuse seem to have been absorbed by the sheets of Beuysian felt carpeting the cabinet.

What I most appreciate about Susan Hiller is her ability to bring her analytical point of view, her systematic way of looking at the world, to be able to identify its revealing phenomena, and to present them to us in a context that is simultaneously conceptual and sensitive. But not everyone appreciates this: you can read two reviews of this exhibition that are hardly positive by Brian Sewell (who is very negative and acerbic), and Fisun Güner.

Photo 1: courtesy of the Tate’s press service. Other images courtesy of the author.

en francais

The Pompidou Centre defeated by the Tate Modern (Gabriel Orozco)

After the catastrophic exhibition of Gabriel Orozco at the Pompidou Centre, I was eager to see his exhibition at the Tate Modern (until April 25). In principle, it’s the same exhibition in the four major museums (the MoMA in New York, and the Kunstmuseum of Bâle before the Pompidou), the same artworks (with a few exceptions), the same (excellent) catalogue, and yet they are like night and day. Where the Pompidou made a complicated, twisted, sealed-off exhibition misrepresenting the artist’s artwork (unbeknownst to him), with fake Mexican policemen, with works too far from the spectators to be seen, and with the incongruous spread of pages from a Lartigue catalogue- the curators of the Tate made an intelligent exhibition that was clear and accessible. I already hear the cries of conservatives that denounce the vulgarisation, guided pedagogy and absence of creativity associated with the English, whilst praising the intellectual brilliance tinged with humour on this side of the Channel. To be cured of this intellectual arrogance, go and take the Eurostar and find out.

It’s firstly a clear and aerated presentation of brilliant works here- not an incomprehensible pile of crammed-up work- but a progression, both chronological and thematic at the same time. For an artist whose fundamental approach is to reuse, reinterpret and to reconfigure- this emphasis placed on the essential and not the spectacle is quite pertinent. The generous space allocated to this exhibition permits rather monumental installations to be on display- next to the Citroen DS (which we can appreciate from close quarters), the Elevator, the four bicycles, and the Black Kites skull (which we can almost touch). Around the checkerboard of paint on the skull, marked by the notion of game, of chance, and of which we can see the squares transform into diamonds or lines that deform over the course, into cranial forms, the walls are posted with obituaries in this room dedicated to death: unnamed and undated obituaries, with just their title in the New York Times, a brief summary of the life of one man. Here, in an unseemly enigmatic manner the headlines read “Washerwoman who gave all she had to help others,” or pathetically, “Actor once wed to Shirley Temple” and ironically “Eccentric Even for England” in original typography, which we figure, reflects the importance of the article and the character depicted within (“Obit Series”).

In the largest room, the walls are adorned with a fresco of yellow scooters (titled Until you find another Schwalbe): these duos (there’s even a trio) are the photographic results of Orozco’s travels on his ‘Schwalbe’ in the streets of Berlin- in search of other identical scooters, in order to immortalise this encounter, this coupling of yellow frames. All are depicted in profile and point towards the right- certain photos were even inversed in order to attain the impossible quest: the quest for the ‘other’ (the other scooter driver, the passenger of the Citroen DS, and the lift companions are beautifully described by Jorge Macchi).

The exhibition gives Orozco’s themes sufficient amounts of space to develop, along with an entire room devoted to the theme of the chess Knight; a 16-square by 16-square chessboard of four different colours that is populated with 60 knights of the same colours, a Perecian nightmare (titled Horses Running Endlessly), and this same motif is used in the circular coloured diagrams on the walls (titled Samurai Tree Invariant). This generous allocation of space and progression is in contrary to the physically and intellectually restricted presentation of his works in Paris. His photography of simple and incongruous objects is very poetic; I also like his sense of ephemera (see Breath on Piano).

Three monumental installations are shown here that weren’t included at the Pompidou: an artwork of circular-shaped Carom billiards (with three balls and no pockets), titled Carambole with Pendulum and in which the red ball is suspended from a pendulum a few millimetres above the green table surface, presenting the game with irregularity concerning its rules, displacements, and upsetting the notion of Real. This artwork evokes Foucault’s pendulum, or Galilée’s lamp that I saw a few days before; but it is also a playful piece, where each person can take a cue and try out their luck (no Mexican policemen there !), experimenting with this discrepancy, much in the spirit of ordinary things according to Orozco. This essence of discovery and openness are particularly stimulating.

The floor of one of the rooms is covered with pieces of black rubber, relics of exploded tyres collected on the side of Mexican roads: there is a memory of the road and of accident, the transformation of ordinary materials, banal rubbish into memorial sculpture; little pieces of aluminium lighten this sombre piece titled Chicotes.

The last room is inhabited by soft ‘sculptures’ draped over hanging lines, not like light-hearted Neapolitan linen, but sheets of residue made from vegetable and human fibres- skin, hair and fabric that we find in the filters of dryers. This suspension of ghosts (titled Lint), shown for the first time in New York after 9/11, is quite morbid; on top of that, in order to cross it upon leaving the exhibition, if we are a little tall, and we want to avoid contact of the top of our heads with these discards, we have to tilt a little, to bend down as if passing through the Door of Humility (la Porte de l’Humilité): an excellent position whilst facing Orozco’s work- this combination of humility and engagement. It’s no doubt what was missing in Paris…

Texte en français

Photos 1 & 5 (edited) courtesy of the Tate. Black Kites 1997 Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift (by exchange) of Mr. and Mrs. James P. Magill, 1997 © Courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; and kurimanzutto, Mexico City/. Chicotes 2010  © Courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Image: Tate Photography


This is an exhibition of photography we rarely see at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, presented under the title ‘Shadow Catchers’ (until February 20th). What the five artists shown here have in common is their photographs, taken without a camera, without a viewfinder, without a lens. How is this possible? Three of them place objects directly on photography paper, thus obtaining images by photogram another does the same, but with light compositions that he recreates in a dark room. The last composes images by drawing directly onto photo paper with chemicals that react with the salts of the paper. All compose images that are more or less abstract, bathed in a surreal and poetic light, the antithesis of dominant documentary photography. It’s too bad that it is only in London where one can see such photographic research, and that it is so rare in France.

The first room is dedicated to photograms by German artist Floris Neusüss. Most are traces of bodies where, in a pagan, sensual performance, naked young women placed their bodies on the paper cut to their size: these are astonishingly precise imprints where flesh meets paper, infinitely more precise than Klein’s Anthropométries. Their positions, erotic or sweet, reflect a dynamism, a flight-like dancing motion suddenly captured, the seized shadow of a fairy. (Untitled (Körperfotogram), Berlin, 1962). These are dreamlike, subconscious images. Neusüs also shows a giant photogram of a window at Lacock Abbey taken by William Henry Fox Talbot (life size) photographed in 1835 and, on the groung, an amusing yet tragic composition, a shadow without a body, the antithesis of Peter Schlemihl.

The next room is, alternatively, the domain of alchemy: no more body, no more narrative but the cool beauty and abstract, geometric compositions by Belgian Pierre Cordier emerge in his chemigrams (Dedalogram V, 22/6/87). From random chemical manipulations emerge labyrinths, forests, diamonds, minimal and eternal forms. Photography is no longer a representation of the real world, instead mere writing with light, and the experimental photographer becomes the creator of material, of beauty and energy, rather than its mere registrar.

Passing from bodies to forms, we arrive at almost pure light itself. Equally remote from reality are the works by Englishman Garry Fabian Miller, who creates purely luminous images with various devices, colorful, reflective, or distorting, to achieve compositions where light and color burst. These images easily become vectors of meditation, mystical springboards, or energizing fuels. That which we see never existed, except in the dream of its creator (The Night cell, Winter, 2009/2010).

Susan Derges is closer to nature, and the English countryside; some of her photographs are of the night sky as it reflects on photosensitive paper spending the night at the bottom of a river, others are traces of waves or ice, captured in the same way, by direct contact with the object represented. Four large compositions, one for each season, are more complex: impressions of light from the sky captured through ink, aquatic weeds, reeds, and moss. They reconstitute a magic of nature, a return to the golden age. (Arch 4 Summer 2007/2008).

Finally, Adam Fuss, an Englishman living in New York, has some spectacular photograms, some with serpents whose thrashings through water are registered on photosensitive paper and this one, where a newborn, squirming a bit in a few inches of water, left a baptismal trace that touches the sublime, the metaphysical (top of the page, Invocation, 1992). His photographs are without a doubt the most tragic, those which interrogate us most about life, death, and perhaps the other side. This blue image of a butterfly in a photogram on a daguerreotype, reusing two techniques from the 19th century against the very rules of the daguerreotype; the opposition thus obtained between positive and negative, between image and mirror, between the empty blue and the fragile body of the insect, creates a sumptuous vanity (My Ghost series, 2001).

It is probably only by breaking all the rules of Good Photography, sidestepping all the controls of cameras and lenses, that one can hope to achieve these strange, stark photographs, so real by being so close to the object, and yet so ghostly.

Texte en français

Photos courtesy of V&A. Floris Neusüss Untitled, (Körperfotogramm), Berlin, 1962 Collection Chistian Diener, Berlin ©Courtesy of Floris Neusüss. Pierre Cordier Chemigram 25/1/66 Dedalogram V, 1966 © Pierre Cordier. Garry Fabian Miller The Night Cell, Winter 2009/10, Collection of the artist © Garry Fabian Miller/ Courtesy of HackelBury Fine Art London. Susan DergesArch4(summer)2007/08© Susan Derges; Adam Fuss Invocation 1992 ©Courtesy of Adam Fuss/ V&A Images; , Daguerreotype, series My Ghost 2001© Courtesy of Adam Fuss.

Move Choreographing You

The show Move Choreographing You at the Hayward Gallery in London (ends January 9th)* aims to explore the interactions between art and dance, starting from the end of the 1950s. Unfortunately, despite a number of interesting works included in the show, the exhibition falls short of being a success. The selection is far from enough, the aim of the show is not adequately articulated, and we end up with too many facile, amusing, interactive pieces, plus a few others which leave one wondering why they were included (like the eight-channel video piece by Isaac Julien, whose only choreographed dimension seems to be to make the viewer move from screen to screen in order to see it: Doug Aiken is better in this regard). It is doubtless symptomatic that one of the pieces in the show is an installation by Robert Morris at the Tate in 1971, as it was reproduced in 2009: sanitized fun-for-the-whole-family, its conceptual dimension lost.

To a degree, this is also the case for the video works by Dan Graham, ‘PresentContinuousPast,’ where the image of the visitor is replayed with a timelapse of eight seconds; a remarkable piece, but presented here as a fairground attraction.  That’s the case for the obstacle course (parcours) by Bill Forsythe, ‘The fact of the matter,’ a game for (large) children that does not seem to connect to the choreographer’s work on the body and space. Christian Jankowski’s hula hoop is sage in comparison with other works using the same device. A few remaining pieces in the show are more complex, less playful and inciting reflection. Boris Charmatz’s sensory room, ‘héâtre-élévision,’ where, for 52 minutes, lying in the dark on a piano-bed, one watches video of dance as absurd as these: it is not especially fun, one does not play, but one experiments, supine, an extreme position of spectator, disoriented, disconnected, a voluntary prisoner. I also liked Franz West’s anti-ergonomic ‘adopted’ objects, impossible to manipulate, towards which one must adapt, and not the reverse; neuroses objectified, according to West.

There are two most most interesting pieces; dense, intimate, not exhibitionist or comical. The ‘Green Light Corridor’ by Bruce Nauman is so narrow that one must walk through it sideways, one’s nose against the wall, aware of keeping one’s balance, moving slowly  and cautiously; the green light adds a slight uneasiness that seizes the spectator. The other is  the installation by Lydia Clark called ‘The house is the body: penetration, ovulation, germination, expulsion,’ in which the spectator penetrates with difficulty, must struggle to maintain one’s path in the midst of loose balls and various tangles, and find refuge in this tear-shaped tent. It is of course a piece about procreation, gestation, and birth, no doubt from a feminist angle, but it is also perhaps a metaphor for artistic creation, or simply for life itself, from an angle half Catholic (you give birth in pain), and half Buddhist (the incessant cycle of life and death).

But this somewhat disappointing show (quite far from the much richer and more reflective A Theatre without Theatre at MACBA), it redeems itself (and merits a visit) through its rich archival selection, where one can see close to two hundred dance performances, organized by theme, period, artist, etc. It is a remarkable archive and I hope will remain long after the show.

*The show will then go to Munich (February to May), and then to Dusseldorf (July to September).

texte en français

Photographs by the author. Images of the works by Bruce Nauman, being represented by ADAGP, will be pulled from the blog after the show finishes in Dusseldorf.

Gauguin, tragic hedonist

Gauguin is not in my personal pantheon, perhaps because of the man he was (execrable) as much as for the excessive symbolism in his painting. However his retrospective at the Tate Modern in London (ends January 16) is quite comprehensive (though his period from Arles is curiously missing), and revelatory. The exhibition is subtitled ‘Maker of Myths,’ which in my opinion is only a minor aspect of his work. One of the first works in the show is this self portrait from 1903, the year of his death: far from the colorful flashes of his Polynesian paintings, it is of an astonishing sobriety. With his white, collarless shirt, grisly grey hair, and small, severe glasses, one seems to be looking at a clergyman or a Zen monk; the bright patch of light on his neck a scimitar, a mark of mortality. The painter looks calm, sure of himself, serene (hardly the case, if one believes his biography); this work promises an alternative reading of his life and work. One feels the breath of the black death (I thought of one of Bonnard’s last self-portraits, similarly serious and prescient).

Further on, this painting of Pouldu (painted in Paris) from 1890, ‘Loss of Virginity,’ rarely lent by the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, is a riot of violent color, floods rising in horizontal bands: brown earth, white body, blue grass, pink hill, green prairie, the somber blue sea, the clear blue of the sky, relentlessly descending to disturb the grey-green rocks, the lost flower/bird of virginity on the woman’s thigh, the perfidious fox close to her neck (the emblem of deflowering, and of Gauguin no doubt), ondinebut also the haystacks, the procession of Bretons, the waves. Certainly, the symbolism is a bit heavy—the virginal flower, the fox-sex, the procession of redemption—but the colorful composition is so vibrant, so garish, that one is spellbound. The young model is Juliette Huet, a seamstress, Gauguin’s mistress whom he will abandon, pregnant, for Tahiti. ‘L’Ondine’ (1889) also features her, a symbolist painting whose vibrant color announces the Fauves.

The exhibition being organized thematically (sometimes speciously), it is the bizarrely named room ‘Gauguin’s Titles’ that houses his most beautiful Polynesian nudes; perhaps they were all mistresses of this faun, perhaps he got each one knocked up, perhaps he gave them all syphilis—but what splendor! Along the walls one finds the reclining nude of ‘Nevermore’ (1987), the image of tragic luxury itself, dreamlike beauty whose dark complexion is lit by the yellow spot of the pillow, whose feigned innocence is contradicted by the Poe-like raven; the twins in ‘Quoi, tu es jalouse?’ (1892) with their mingled bodies, overturned, indivisible, one sitting classically, the other as a wild maenad, and the dark, menacing shadows on the left, seemingly an echo; then, seated, ‘Boudeuse’(1893), melancholy, heavy, rooted, within a triangle made by the yellow hat, the blueish brazier,  and the ominous black dog. Finally, at the end of this progression from horizontal to vertical, the standing nude in ‘Où vas-tu?’ (1983) holds a green gourd almost as another breast, defying us with her glance. To complete the pleasure, I would have loved the fifth canvas not to be ‘Les ancêtres de Tehamana,’ one of his companions, dressed in missionary white and blue, very wise in front of the Easter Island statues and Rapanui signs, but rather the Metropolitan Museum’s ‘Les deux Tahitiennes’ (1899), both facing straight-on, bare chests offered on a bed of hibiscus flowers, underlining one, revealing the other. All these pictures are from Tahiti, and it seemed to me that the Marquises works were missing this hunger and force; his sculptures dominate the rest of the show, and among others, his House of Joy, a whole program. But it is through this self portrait of 1903 that everything concludes, however, inevitably.

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