Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Vernissages of "La Rentree"

Vernissages were aplenty last weekend as autumn marks the start of the cultural season in Paris. I was shocked to see so many openings on the list for the 8th of September (of all dates! the first weekend in Paris) but this was also the very weekend (la rentree) that marked the change of the season. We were blessed with unusually good weather, and armed with a copy of the Galeries Mode D'emploi, we headed out to see as much as we could (hot on the heels of a four-day extreme museum marathon!!!); we encountered about a dozen shows on this desultory meander, and it was very impressive in general, with at least four being noteworthy:

Highlights for me:
1. Sophie Calle (Galerie Perrotin)
2. Claire Morgan (Galerie Karsten Greve)
3. Greg Semu (Galerie Metropolis)
4. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot (Gallery Xippas)

What we saw on a walk through the art district:
1. Greg Semu's fantastic pacific islander reintepretations/restylings of famous christian paintings
2. Aurelie Haberey's photos of a curtain (the only really boring work in the whole walk, actually)
3. Some iconic/famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe (you will have seen this before)
4. Pierre Petit's "Si de si" (a perplexing coil of led lights around some metal weighing scales)
5. Anne-Lise Broyer's cut-up mountain pictures and sketches
6. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's sound works (bees!)
7. Sturtevant's new video works which might or might not be related to Deleuze
8. Jean-Luc Parant's taxidermied creatures cast into resin
9. Claire Morgan's amazingly detailed sculpture-installations of dead flies
10. Sophie Calle's brilliant exhibition in which she asks blind people in Istanbul to describe the last thing they saw before losing their sight forever…

Here follows a more detailed chronological account:

Greg Semu, "The Last Cannibal Supper" / La Galerie Metropolis (16 rue de Montmorency)



The first gallery that we chanced upon was La Galerie Metropolis where we saw the works of Samoan artist Greg Semu. His work was a series of detailed photographic portraits which recalled the iconography of religious paintings from the Christian world - except that the figures have been played by Kanak tribespeople, dressed in traditional costumes which are worn during rituals and ceremonies. Apparently Semu grew up in Auckland but has resided abroad for many years. His work raises the question of how in New Zealand the occidental culture has systematically erased and eroded tradition and people's cultural roots; in his portrait of "The Last Cannibal Supper", the "cannibal" native has one last supper before rescinding his cultural identity - only to partake of the blood and the body in the eucharist?

Hommage a Marilyn Monroe, André de Dienes, The first portrait / Galerie David Guiraud (5 rue de Perche)



Some famous images of Marilyn Monroe. You will probably have seen these images before. I guess there are some very famous works making the circuit in Paris. I guess they all had to be shown somewhere before they gained such world-wide recognition; and some of these work are still being shown over and over again elsewhere. Galerie David Guiraud apparently focuses on showing a lot of "classic" modern photography like this.

Anne-Lise Broyer, "Leçons de Saint-Victoire & Vermillon" / La Galerie Particuliere (16 rue de Perche)



La Galerie Particuliere is an interesting space split across two streets. There was a show inside both of the spaces which was by Anne-Lise Broyer whose written text perhaps exceeds the work itself. She quotes Robert Bresson in his Notes sue le cinematophe: "An image should transform itself through contact with other images, like a color in contact with other colors". Her images are supposed to be "in-between images" from which the viewer can make what he/she will of the works. While the sentiment is good and the works are generally aesthetically pleasing in their "delicacy" (this seems to be a word that the French seem to very fond of!), I find the "in-between" works (as described by the artist of her own work) to be unsatisfying because it is not demanding enough. If art or literature is not like a knife that's stabbing you, then I would find it boring. You might as well take a picture of some normal curtain and then call it art. And if I ever see another artist take a picture of a curtain and then attempt to pass it off as art, then I will probably have to stab that so-called "artist". That would certainly be cause for an artistic intervention…

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot / Gallery Xippas (108 rue Vielle-du-temple)




Gallery Xippas is located next to Galerie Yvon Lambert (where Paolo Giulini's exposition is also on at right now). Getting there, you might notice the curious queue to get up on a busy day, because the entrance to the gallery has been blocked by many rocks. Boursier-Mougenot's rationale for doing this is so that people slow their pace before going upstairs since you have to concentrate pretty hard on getting up the stairs in one piece (without rolling down on the bed of large pebbles). Upstairs he has a number of sound works and installations, the most notable of which is a beehive with a microphone inside it, amplifying the sound of bees coming in and out of the hive which bees can still access through the window. I would be very excited about this…. except that I had just seen a beehive with a pipe to a window at the Ottoneum (a venue for documenta at Kassel), so the bringing of beehives to urban places where they are isolated yet so close and visible to us is not a new image to me anymore. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the sound works had significant presence in the room. The hum of bees which is perceived as a threatening "white noise" to us humans is actually important bee communication that apparently helps the bees bond together. As for the black bakelite phone, I understood that it was supposed to ring every time somebody googled the word "phantom". The effort and queuing was worth it, but I still think perhaps it could have gone further with the idea, rather than simply presenting a straight-up visual "conceit".

Sturtevant, "L'Abécédaire De Deleuze" / Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (7 Rue Debelleyme)


Elaine Sturtevant is probably more famous for having an artistic career that is almost entirely based on copying other artists, which I think is only really interesting for the people who are writing about art. Her older work in general is not in any way inspirational for me as an artist because it is pure concept and lacking in form and content and imagination. This work was not in English and there was no accompanying English text - so my best guess would be that it was something about art world people talking about something, maybe Deleuze. I apologize I am not trying harder to figure out what it is, because I figure that either way it is probably going to be all the same; actually I'm not really sorry either… ("Next!")

Jean-Luc Parant "Mémoire du merveilleux" / Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier (8 rue Debelleyme)




The light was dim and it looked like a huge pile of rocks inside the gallery, which naturally attracted me. But these were not just rocks, these were man-made objects that looked like fossils and rocks. The setting for Parant's exhibition were suitably lush and were clearly intending to exude some sort of "natural", "classic" and/or "historical" feel, with plant anatomical drawings and whole mummified baby elephants and pufferfish and other exotic flora and fauna, frozen in time. His work was about creating marvelous artifacts - unbelievable fossils which have animals with a crazy mix of animal parts appearing from jet black rocks. There was a band playing on the second floor when we came in, and they played a long, mysterious and moody introduction to their set while we ascended the stairs, which was really impressive and it even helped intensify the mood of mystery - that is, until we got upstairs, and then the band suddenly segued in a very mundane and predictable rendition of Sinatra's "Fly me to the Moon". Yes, it was that kind of vernissage, and the crowd was significantly older, in posher clothes, probably more monied, and maybe slightly less critical at this show than others. On closer examination of the pieces, the resin casts are rougher than one would expect, and the studies and other paintings could really be more detailed. The taxidermied and preserved animals look a little shocked to have been permanently frozen into place in someone's artwork of all things. There was something in the presentation style that showed that it wanted to seem convincingly authentic but these "fake historical" items did not speak to me with their stories; instead, the natural portions of the work (i.e: the taxidermied animals) all seemed to be quite alarmed at these ministrations, especially with the application of permanent resin around these natural objects!

Claire Morgan "Quietus" / Galerie Karsten Greve (5 rue Debelleyme)






Claire Morgan's work is so detailed that it truly blows all the other works out of the water; most artists do not make works which have such excellent form, although it must be very very tedious to build a work such as that. Blowing at her delicate work, however, is something that is specifically forbidden (as says a small sign next to each work) - as each of her works consist of hundreds and thousands of tiny little dead flies or dandelion seeds strung up onto transparent threads and hung from the ceiling. They form columns and lines and blocks which are perfectly lined up. It is terrifyingly fragile, and that is the point of the work itself, because life is fragile. The studies and sketches are also equally detailed and amazing; but the precision of the installations is jaw-dropping which makes it truly worth a visit to see in person.

Sophie Calle - "Pour la dernière et pour la première fois" / Galerie Perrotin (76 rue de turent)





We chose to end this walk on a high note by going to Sophie Calle's show. Calle's work has a very strong, anthropological element to it - in that she goes out and speaks to many people and her pictures have a strong narrative thread that accompanies all of them. This was an excellent exhibition about her project asking blind people in Istanbul what was the last thing they remember seeing before losing their sight. All these were people were not blind from birth but had lost their sight for some reason. Some go into detail on how they lost their sight, while some remain slightly enigmatic. The stories are brilliant (the catalogue is quite desirable as it has all the images and texts, but it was too steep at a whopping 79 euros) but I guess that even if this had been the only show I had seen in the area, it would have been worth an entire trip on its own.

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