Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Pride of Place at NOMA

Over the years, Arthur Roger nurtured artists through his art gallery opened in 1978 and in doing so, helped shape and promote the art scene of his native city. Joining the list of benefactors, he recently gifted his sizable art collection accumulated over four decades to the New Orleans Museum of Art. The eighty-seven objects, including paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs, are on display this Summer for the exhibition Pride of Place: The Making of Contemporary Art in New Orleans, curated by Katie Pfohl, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at NOMA.

 Pride of Place starts with a bang, featuring at the entrance Deborah Kass's silkscreen Camouflage Self Portrait, 1994, a major piece of The Warhol Project. After a short text introducing the exhibition, works lined up along the walls include a red, gory wood print from James Surls and a woodblock from John T. Scott surrounding a piece from Clyde Connell, a Louisiana self-taught artist. These are followed by photographs from George Dureau and face Green Drops, 1983, a cross from John Torreano, Star of David, u.d., from Keith Sonnier and a hieroglyphic composition from Ida Kohlmeyer. In the middle of the room, an early kinetic sculpture from Lin Emery, Fledging, 1965, represents the cornerstone of her future works. All in all, a first glance embraces nine pieces (also Lovers (2 Bronze Horns), n.d., a sculpture from Ersy Schwartz), promising a challenging visit due to the number and variety of works. Their connections to the South and the Arthur Roger Gallery are sometimes subtle. For example, Peter Haley's print A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey, 1989, a colored architectural geometric abstraction with squares he calls "prisons" and "cells" connected by "conduits" is about the densely populated northeastern city. How did his work become part of the collection? Haley obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New Orleans in 1978 and lived several years in the crescent city before moving back to New York. Self  Portrait/Cutting, 1993, a photograph from Catherine Opie is related to the landmark show curated by Deborah Kass which took place at the Arthur Roger Gallery in 1993, titled Regarding Masculinity. The setting makes for a pleasant walk through the display. Sculptures, even huge like An American Family, 1991, from Willie Birch  made of papier-mâché or  Fence Row, 2013, from Gene Koss are provided ample space, allowing a view from all angles. Robert Colescott's satirical painting, Whitfield Lovell's ghostly installation, Radcliffe Bailey's piece about the African Diaspora, define the artists. Among the photographers, Robert Polidori who documented the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in the devastated city is represented, so is Gordon Parks. Controversial photographs from Robert Mapplethorpe, George Dureau and John Waters are displayed in a more private space while portraits, Magic Johnson by Erb Ritts or Andy Warhol by Greg Gorman, underline the diversity of the collection. A narrative mural from Luis Cruz Azaceta provides a background for a sculpture from Lesley Dill, Untitled Figure-Delight, Bliss, Murder, 1995, a story on its own, featuring a headless female body carved with messages. The deep South is not forgotten with  Courtney Egan's magical video while Dawn Dedeaux and Jacqueline Bishop's works bring darker thoughts about our future.
What is striking, especially in the last room, is the juxtaposition of styles, figurative next to pop or conceptual art, taking some viewers beyond their comfort zone. Through artists from co-op galleries like Aaron McNamee, Alex Podesta or Cynthia Scott, representing the lively St. Claude Arts District, the donation rejuvenates the museum's contemporary art collection and fosters the inclusion of local artists. It also propels NOMA on the international art scene with names like Polidori whose photographs are in the permanent collections of MoMA, Centre Pompidou in Paris or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Treating subjects like the HIV/AIDS epidemic, sexuality, gender, race, the collection provides material for reflection over place and time. It also follows the tribulations of the city with works inspired by hurricane Katrina. Each carefully selected piece contributes to its overall goal: "collecting contemporary art, reframing regionalism and championing emerging voices".

Be aware, one visit will not be sufficient to appreciate the art collected over four decades!

photographs by the author

Ida Kohlmeyer, "Synthesis BB", 1983
view of the exhibition
 Alex Podesta, "Untitled (Pointer)", 2012, detail

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beyond Borders

Neapolitan (Comic Book Diplomacy, Go Cup and Water Bottle Buoys)Christopher Saucedo's latest exhibition at Arthur Roger Gallery assembles varied works from the sculptor with an emphasis on his Comic Book Diplomacy series. Saucedo, previously Professor at the University of New Orleans, now divides his time between New Orleans and Rockaway, NY, and teaches sculpture at Adelphi University.
Superhombre, Űbermensch, Stålmannen, ..., Superman's name plastered on the front covers of comic books in Spanish, German, Swedish, Turkish, Arabic, ..., transports the visitor in a fantasy world. Bright colors, vivid graphics, short texts, send powerful messages and define superheroes (and villains). Born from his love for cartoons as a child, the artist's hobby, collecting international comic books of American superheroes, has brought him to consider their relevance and impact on multicultural audiences. To make his point he has created a series of collages. The process involves removing a large circle of a comic book's cover and replace it with the same superhero but from another country's publication, using a hot-brand technique. The juxtaposition of different languages can result in geo-politically or culturally provocative associations. The arrangements are visually pleasing with branded imprints of maps and sometimes embroidered compass roses, contributing to the conversation. Where is North? Off a few degrees, the image refers to the moral compass made of set of values instilled through education and culture. Could  Jewish and Palestinian teenagers get the same perception of the hero's character ? Could the hero foster a bond between them? The mythical figures can also be seen as propaganda material, perpetuating the symbol of an indomitable hero from the giant country. The characters have also been promoted for educational purposes. Superman, Superwoman , Batman, were staged in comics aimed at raising the awareness of children about landmines, deadly remnants of wars. Lined up along the walls of the front main gallery, the pieces created for the Comic Book Diplomacy series are spread toward the back and lead to the second part of the exhibition, a major work from the Water Bottle Buoys series: the artist's self-portrait. A buoy anchored to a heavy boulder by a rope represents Saucedo's volume of water when plunging into a vat filled with the liquid "element". With his life in tatters following hurricane Katrina, he moved to the North East and faced a second disaster during hurricane Sandy. With a tinge of humor, the conceptual artist refers to his mixed feelings about water, deadly and also sustaining life. Practical, he recycles the plastic pollutant to make floating sculptures. A homegrown feature in New Orleans, go cups branded or embroidered on hand made paper surround the sculpture. The poetic rendition of containers, cans and water bottles included, is also a reminder: let's not waste any precious liquid especially when fermented!
Saucedo who calls himself a "pretend sociologist" brings up serious subjects to make us reflect. The exhibition is a way to discover another side of the artist who in his interview for NPR  in 2015, stated that his usual media is "steel, wood, cast metals and big physical material". This time he is using the technique of branding, "pushing red-hot steel shapes onto the paper maps... a deliberate, irrevocable and violent way of marking and cutting shapes". He is also using embroidery, a soothing occupation, on light-hearted material. A sculptor, Saucedo turned his hobby into art.
A very timely and relevant exhibition which reminds us of the power of art, healing on a personal level and creating bridges between cultures.

An exhibition of the Water Bottle Buoys series took place at Good Children Gallery in December 2016.

photographs by the author:

"Comic Book Diplomacy: Supermen (CSAU0151)", 2017
"Superman Handcuffed (CSAU0152)", 2017
"Water Bottle Buoy", 2016

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Please Respond", Senga Nengudi at the CAC

At the Contemporary Art Center, Improvisational Gestures is the "first museum exhibition to survey the sculptures, performance video and related work" from Senga Nengudi. The artist born in Chicago in 1943 is presently living and working in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She was involved in setting up the touring comprehensive survey of her work which spans forty years of her career, from the 70's to the present and features several pieces of her famous RSVP series started in 1975.
The show curated by Elissa Auther and Nora Burnett, following a traditional setting, starts with an informative wall text about the artist and her work accompanied by a few black and white photographs documenting the artist's interaction with her sculptures made of pantyhose. A number of her iconic sculptures fill the second floor of the venue, lined up along the walls. The spotlights in the dark space allow a play between the pieces made of "stretched, pulled , twisted" nylon tights and their shadows. Nengudi is well known for her use of the tan colored medium with sand-filled feet to support the final shape. The RSVP series, an ongoing project started in 1975, is well represented with eight pieces made in 2014. Their message about stretching body and psyche is consistent while Blossom, 2014, created specifically for the exhibition seems somewhat clichéd. Rubber Maid, 2011 and Swing Low, 1976/2014, allude to female shapes with sagging breasts.
A major piece, Nuki Nuki: Across 118th St., 1982, incorporates wooden slats entangled with torn pantyhose, fragile but flexible bridge between two walls. The sculpture is a reflection about the living conditions in the seventies and eighties Harlem where Nengudi lived from 1971 to 1974 as a member of the black artists' community. The sound of a video emerges from a small room where Warp Dance, 2007, is displayed on a large screen. In the multi-channel audio/video installation (sound by Butch Morris) made during the artist's residence at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, she captures colors and rhythms of mechanized looms, resulting in a mesmerizing piece. In the center of the exhibition, a whole space is dedicated to more video works like Side by Side, 2006, about her collaboration with Maren Hassinger, Hands, 2003-2012, a gestural piece performed with hands only, and The Threader, 2007, made also during her residency, in which she records the repetitive gestures of a textile worker. Photographs document past performances of the artist with her collaborators and friends, among them the memorable Gutai style event Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978, which took place underneath an interstate overpass downtown Los Angeles or Nengudi wearing her own sculptures like Nick Cave, for Sculpture Inside Out, 1977/2014.
The exhibition provides an in-depth review of  the work of the multidisciplinary artist who started her career as a dancer. Incorporating dance, music, visual art, she evokes life impermanence, female identity, rituals, through gestures, movement, activating her sculptures during improvised performances. Her RSVP series ( Répondez S'il Vous Plaît) translates into "Please Respond", a direct call to the viewer to become engaged and interact with the works. At first, attracted by the sculptures, I found them static and mute, like frozen lifeless shapes. The display emphasizes their aesthetic qualities, but renders them shallow and irrelevant as the artist's message gets lost,... until one reaches the videos and photographs of her performances. Hypnotized and entranced, I spent a long time watching the videos made during her residency. The Threader becomes a mythical story about a textile worker repeating the same gestures in harmony with the machine to create perfect patterns for eternity. Warp Dance gives life to mechanized looms dancing in cadence and changing colors according to a perpetual cycle. Nengudi's art is dynamic, performative, improvisional, and becomes stale in the museum's context. It brings up the challenge of representing performative art inspired by and created for a community within the walls of an institution.
The "first museum survey" of Senga Nengudi's sculptures comes short of its promises: "the works invite viewers to not only respond but to engage with them physically". At the end of the visit, I felt like a spectator.

R.S.V.P. sculptures activated by the artist and Maren Hassinger, 1977
Rapunzel, 1980/2014
R.S.V.P Reverie 'D', 2014

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Escape at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Japonism is the term used to describe Japanese influence on European art. It flourished in the mid-nineteenth century due to a renewed trade between Japan and the continent following the seclusion era. Artists like Claude Monet with his famous painting The Water Lily-Pond, 1899Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh who collected Japanese prints with his brother Theo, and other Impressionist painters , were inspired by Japanese art.
The New Orleans Museum of Art just opened an exhibition: Regina Scully | Japanese Painting: Inner Journeys featuring works of the local artist presented along selected pieces of the museum's Japanese collection.
At the entrance of the dimly lit Japanese gallery, a red monochrome painting from Regina Scully, The Origins of Dreams, 2017, draws the attention under the title of the show. A wall text introduces the exhibition's brainchild along Mindscape 4, 2017, one of the artist's latest work. The display features Scully's contemporary paintings embedded among Japanese landscapes from the 17th to the 19th century. Scully's "intuitive connection with Asian art" started early in her career as seen in Providence Sketches, 1995, oils on chipboard. Upon reaching the main gallery the visitor is met by a line up of bright paintings, monochromes like Passage, 2012 and Excavation 11, 2009, or with a dominant background color for Mindscape 2 and 3, 2017, blue, orange, yellow, according to emotions and moods. From afar, they share a calligraphic abstract language, spread throughout the canvas without a focal point, allowing the eye to wander. The display which does not follow a chronological order includes Delos, 2012 and Channels, 2013, then three black and brown monochrome paintings from the Navigation series, 2009. According to Rotondo-McCord, curator of the exhibition, these inspired the project due to the analogies found between Scully's techniques, use of perspectives, space, colors, and Japanese art. Across, three paintings are in striking contrast with their vivid colors. From the Mindscape series, they were composed following Scully's exposure to hundreds of works from the Japanese collection. With the same graphic qualities than earlier paintings, they integrate new techniques like paint applied directly on the canvas with the fingertips and experiment with horizontal formats influenced by handscrolls. Near the exit, Cosmographia, 2015, a multicolored composition on a white background which could be qualified as semi-abstract, belongs to the museum's permanent collection. 

A disclaimer in the introductory wall text makes it clear: the exhibition is not about comparing Scully's paintings and Japanese landscapes. Van Gogh's direct inspiration from Japanese prints, especially Hiroshige's, was the subject of a didactic exhibition at the Pinacotheque in Paris in 2013. Each of his paintings was matched with a Japanese scene. Here, Scully's paintings are displayed in the gallery to present the contemporary artist's work in light of traditional Eastern art, allowing the visitor to wander back and forth, following the path of a quiet Japanese garden to the top of a mountain or meandering in one of Scully's busy compositions. She characterizes the different scenes as "puzzles" put together to create a journey which becomes a personal adventure for each viewer. Of course, one cannot avoid comparing the works. Scully's medium, acrylic on canvas or board, brings a different texture sometimes difficult to appreciate behind the glass. Her compositions which appear abstract at first veer to figurative when looked at closer as opposed to the idealized figurative Japanese scenery turning into abstract, but the tension between abstract and figurative is more palpable in Scully's works. Japanese landscapes are restful, quiet, serene and Scully's "scapes" are restless, chaotic, reflecting a different world. The subdued fragile colors of Japanese paintings are replaced by yellows, oranges, reds, greens,..., becoming brighter in her Mindscapes series. Moving on from her monochrome series, she now favors multicolored compositions. Just a reminder, monochrome was born from calligraphy in the East, centuries ago as described in the introduction of the book Monochromes: from Malevich to the Present written by Barbara Rose. If  human subjects appear secondary in the Japanese scenes, Scully's are filled with life, telling myriads of stories. Both are about our relationship with nature.
The exhibition generates an ongoing conversation.  

photographs by the author:

Mindscape 5, 2017
Mindscape 3, 2017 (detail)
Mindscape 2, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

In Search of Beauty and Happiness

A random encounter with a work from Agnes Martin at the occasion of a gallery or museum visit can be a lost opportunity. Time and background knowledge about the artist and her body of work are essential to appreciate the austere compositions. In the spirit, my latest reading is Agnes Martin, a book published at the occasion of the retrospective exhibition of her work at the Tate Modern in 2015. It includes abundant photographs, excerpts from the artist's writings and thirteen essays scattered throughout the monograph edited by the co-curators Frances Morris and Tiffany Bell.

Following the introduction which defines the breadth of the exhibition, assembling works from the early to the late period of Agnes Martin's career, a biography also written by Tiffany Bell provides a concurrent history of  the artist's life and of the evolution of her art, on a background of poverty and mental illness. Frances Morris  introduces the artist's work in light of the abstract expressionist movement and of her interaction with her peers. Christina Bryan Rosenberger who wrote "Drawing the Line", a book concentrating on the early works from Martin, contributes a short piece about Islands No.4, 1961, while historian and art critic Richard Tobin explores the whole series. Rachel Barker, Tate's Paintings Conservator, presents a detailed technical analysis of Morning, 1965 and Marion Ackermann comments on Untitled #5, 1998. In her essay "In Pursuit of the Neutral: Agnes Martin's Shimmering Line", Anna Lovatt discusses the contribution of Agnes Martin to the Graphic Art and Briony Fer, her use of geometric shapes in "Who's Afraid of Triangles?". The slow discovery of Martin's works in Europe is described by Maria Mȕller-Schareck, starting with a first painting shown in Zurick in 1960. A collection of portraits selected by Lena Fritsch accompanied by informative comments, sheds some light on the artist's personal life. It includes photographs by  Diane ArbusAnnie Leibovitz and Hans Namuth. Agnes Martin's spiritual influences are approached by Jacquelynn Baas, author of Smile of the Buddha and the German artist Rosemarie Trockel contributes a short poem.
Agnes Martin's writings provide a glimpse into her inner life and the sources of her inspiration. Selected excerpts enrich the reproductions of her works. For example, On a Clear Day, 1973, a Portfolio of 30 screenprints, is introduced by a short quote:
"Art work that is completely abstract - free from any expression of the environment is like music and can be responded to in the same way. Our response to line and tone and color is the same as our response to sounds. And like music abstract art is thematic. It holds meaning for us that is beyond expression in words."... Agnes Martin, (October 15, 1975)
She also expresses her thoughts about art in the essay "Beauty is the Mystery of Life", 1989.
More quotes are found in the book:
"When you find out what you like, you're really finding about yourself... people who look at my painting say that it makes them feel happy like the feeling when you wake up in the morning - And happiness is the goal isn't it?"
" My paintings have neither objects, nor space, nor time, nor anything - no forms"
And to conclude, on the back of the book's jacket: "Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in my mind."
Through the essays from scholars, the book offers different perspectives on Agnes Martin's sometimes esoteric work. Ultimately, the artist herself provides the key to her legacy, result of a lifelong search for beauty and happiness.

illustrations: photographs from Tate's website copyright Estate of Agnes Martin 

"Morning", 1965
"Happy Holiday", 1999
"Untitled", 1965

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Circle of Life

ROOTS, an exhibition featuring three artists, prompted my first visit at the Chapel Gallery on the Xavier University campus. Located on the first floor of the administrative building, the gallery is a wide open space well-suited for the display of Ron Bechet's charcoal drawings, Patrick Waldemar's paintings and Rontherin Ratliff's sculptures. From diverse backgrounds, the three artists share a common heritage expressed through their work. Ron Bechet, born and raised in New Orleans, is presently Art Professor at Xavier University, the Jamaican painter Patrick Waldemar is a recent Crescent City's adoptee and Rontherin Ratliff represents a younger generation of New Orleans artists, deeply afflicted by hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

A wall text at the entrance introduces the exhibition's theme. ROOTS is about trees and their sacred nature as perpetuated by the African Diaspora in today's Louisiana. Across the hallway, a second text describes the symbolic meaning of trees in West Africa. Connections between earth and sky, ancestors and livings, trees are also considered spirits. Walking into a narrow room lined-up with Bechet's twelve feet high drawings
(charcoals on paper), the visitor experiences the energy and power of nature. Surrounded by overgrown, contorted giant tree roots, one feels lost in a fairy tale. Farther down, smaller framed works Why Trans Formation, Restoration of Consciousness and Vulnerability, 2014, are tracing knots, arcane paths, ways to a secret initiation. They illustrate a quote from the artist painted on the wall: "Roots are passages and opportunities, a subtle dialogue between secular and the sacred."
Nature is nurturing but can also bring havoc and destruction. Ratliff experienced nature's wrath and Things That Float, 2010, three models of shotgun houses suspended from the ceiling, represent the vessels of his memories. Made of wood boards and Plexiglas, their glaucous walls expose stacks of water-damaged photographs, some flying in the houses, like blown by an ongoing storm. The weathered pictures have acquired a pinkish tint and, here and there, the shadow of a child can be seen, left over testimony of happy times. Ratliff contributed also a giant sculpture-installation Rooted, 2017, towering the largest gallery on the other side of the hallway. Built with found material, including bricks, a fireplace grate, window screens, a bicycle, discarded wood, and more, the tree, composite of inert material, becomes alive. Well anchored with its roots spreading on the floor, the trunk climbs the wall and spreads its limbs and foliage. Charged with their history, the objects loose their function and contribute to a new life form with a soul, a kind of resilience following disasters.
Ten paintings, acrylics on canvas, from Patrick Waldemar hung on the three surrounding walls add bright colors to the display. The square compositions of moderate size (50 x 50 inches for the largest) could be divided in two series according to their predominant colors and their subject. Four of them built with geometric shapes, lines framing masked actors and circles from the moon, infer magic and rituals.  Red and white on a black background add drama and mystery. The six remaining paintings are depicting white magnolia flowers on a black background with touches of yellow and green. In his artist statement, Waldemar relates his work to deeper meanings about a society "where the history of slavery still looms as a spectral presence at the racially exclusive balls and social clubs of the city."
The major themes of the exhibition, life, death, decay and rebirth, are powerfully expressed through the art works filled with Southern references.
"As the Magnolia browns, new seeds seek fertile ground. Stripped of petals, passion remains in the bones." Patrick Waldemar
" My roots are my connection to my ancestors, and my "knowing" without being told. In my landscape there is the intermingling of community, a metaphor for joy, grief, pleasure, and suffering. Death is respected here, as the continuation of life." Ron Bechet.

photographs by the author:

Ron Bechet, "Transformation: to the Question of Who" (detail), 2016-2017
Rontherin Ratliff, "Rooted", 2017
Patrick Waldemar, "Morpheus and the River of Dreams", 2017

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Master of Lights and Shadows

When Julio Le Parc arrived in Paris from his birth country Argentina, he had a mission: transform the art scene. In 1958, "art" in Europe was driven by the elite and displayed in  museums and galleries.
Le Parc and his group, the GRAV ("Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel" founded in 1960), were to change this, and bring art to the masses and to the streets. The artist's fame grew parallel to his work's international recognition starting with the attribution of the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1966, and his political engagement which got him briefly thrown out of France following the May 1968 events. Le Parc believed that it was the artist's responsibility to engage crowds of uninitiated people and transform their lives. A tall order he pursued during his career which spans more than 60 years. The 88 year old artist presently living in Cachan, a southern suburb of Paris, was recently in Miami for the opening of his first museum solo show in the United States taking place at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Julio Le Parc: Form into Action occupies most of the museum's second floor gathering more than 100 works, from drawings, paintings to sculptures and installations.

A photograph of young Le Parc and a brief text about his background printed on a ceiling-to-floor poster introduce the exhibition which starts in a dimly lit room lined up on one wall by a historical piece. Continuel-mobile, 1963/2016, hung at the entrance of the Paris Biennale at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1963. This time, half of it is on display to fit the space. Made of multiple pieces of metal hanging from nylon threads, in constant motion, it could be called a kinetic relief but the categorization would reduce the impact of the work which fills the room's black walls and floor with fleeting lights and shadows created by the reflection of spotlights. Immersed into the work of art, one feels slightly disoriented, like floating in the dark space due to the constant shift of the elusive images. In search of "instability", Le Parc reached his goal.
The exhibition progresses more or less chronologically going back to 1959. In the first room, the abundant works on display from that period are two dimensional and mainly black and white. All are made of simple geometric shapes rearranged to create visual effects, distort vision and generate illusions of motion. Ambivalent Progressive Sequences with Circles, Rotation of Squares, Visual Instability, become a lesson in Op art. The following room is filled with the fourteen "pure" colors selected by the artist for his research about  the subject. Started also in the early 60's as witnessed by the archival material courtesy of the artist, the meticulous studies recorded on school paper feature endless permutations, interactions, combinations and rearrangements of the fourteen colors. These led to larger acrylics on canvas in the 70's, like  the Ondes series, and sculptures. This period's masterpiece is a site specific wall decoration La Longue Marche (The Long Walk), 1974, displayed in a round room. The 360 degrees composition surrounds the visitor with its interacting colored lines, creating ten different patterns evoking life "unforeseen events", "expectations" and "surprises". Moving on to the 80's, the Alchimies series is in stark contrast, with its black background sprinkled with tiny colored dots, resulting in cosmic landscapes.
From then on, the visit offers some of the most iconic works from Le Parc, starting with kinetic wall pieces like Cercle en contortion sur trame, or Formes en contortion sur trame, both made in 1966. The works of the Contorsions series made of reflective metal ribbon on a background of narrow longitudinal black and white stripes, are animated by small motors swooshing softly in the background, while two larger works Cloison à lames réfléchissantes and the mural Virtual Circles, 1964-1966, (Displacements Series) are activated by the viewer's motion. These are surrounded by smaller but compelling pieces like Trame altérée, 1966/2005. Le Parc's contribution to The Labyrinth, 1963, presented by the GRAV for its landmark exhibition at the Paris Biennale includes this time Penetrable Cell, 1963/2016, Cell with Curved Mirrors and Light in Motion, 1963/2016 and  Cell with Vibrating Projection, 1968/2017. Immersed in the "environment", the visitor navigating from cell to cell through narrow passages lined up with distorted mirrors or floating sheets of metal, becomes disoriented due to the reflection of the lights producing fuzzy "uncatchable" images, twisted dancing lines and unexpected shadows. Even the ground feels unstable. Next, one can lay down on a couch to gaze at Continuel-lumière au plafond, (Continuous light on ceiling) 1963/1986, or sit down to look at two light boxes, assembly of Plexiglas and wood. With light and mirrors in constant motion, the two Continual-lumière, 1960/66, provide examples of infinite variations of light, color and form and contributed to Le Parc's influence in the kinetic movement.
The  "experience" continues with more lights and shadows, coming from large-scale works, like Lumière verticale visualisée, 1978, a fountain of light, Continuel-lumière cylindre, 1962/2003 or Lumières alternées, 1967/93. Nearby smaller pieces offer a full view of their inner parts: broken glass or mirrors, screws, bolts, springs, toy-size motors, spotlights...  a technology more adapted to tinker in a shed than to create art in a studio (would have thought art aficionados at that time!). Upon leaving the dark and quiet space, the contrast is jarring when reaching the brightly lit and noisy "Game Room" where several play stations offer interactive activities aimed at engaging the visitor directly. The conclusion of the exhibition Sphère Rouge, 2001/2012, is a gigantic red ball made of Plexiglas. Eight feet in diameter (and height), it includes 3000 red squares suspended from nylon threads. Red Sphere is a signature piece of the artist's latest works.
Fulfilling one of Le Parc's goals to physically engage the visitor, the exhibition's setting allows the viewer to become participant. It gives also the occasion to discover or rediscover the artist, starting with his studies. The hand drawn exercises on school paper, in which he meticulously rearranges shapes and colors, outline his quintessential references. Starting room 4, the kinetic pieces, small or large, represent Le Parc's legacy. One can regret that Le Parc's political and social engagement, a basic motivation for his practice in the 60's, is not more emphasized. For Le Parc, art has the power to change people's life and he thrived to democratize art. Material related to this aspect of his legacy is available in the book published at the occasion of the exhibition, including some of his writings. Movie clips from the period and a recent interview of the artist are shown in the museum's theater.
Another goal of Le Parc was to create emotionless art. Completely detached from the work, the artist leaves the viewer interact directly with the art and transform it. He succeeds in a way that his work reaches the coldness of op art. But spirituality seeps in, due to his search for infinite combinations of shapes and colors. Technically flawless, the works require careful synchronization and precise settings to allow randomness. However, Red Sphere feels like a step back in the artist's journey. Decorative, it has lost the sense of fun and experimentation of earlier works.
Julio Le Parc in museums? Times have changed, and the word "museum" expresses another reality: crowds of schoolchildren, visitors of every age and background, far from the stuffy crowds of insiders from the 60's. Artists like Le Parc contributed to these changes.


photographs by the author:

"Séquences progressives ambivalentes", 1959/91
"Trame altérée", 1965
"Continuel-lumière écran en plastique", 1960/66
"Lumière verticale visualisée", 1978, video