Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dark at La Maison Rouge

La Maison Rouge on boulevard de la Bastille is on my list of visits while in Paris and this time offers two well assorted exhibitions. I guess because it was on the right side, I started with L' Asile des photographies, a collaboration between an historian, Philippe Artières and a photographer, Mathieu Pernod. Of first, the installation Le Dortoir des agités immerses the visitor in the closed world of madness. Like in a prison, the bare room is occupied by four iron beds, side by side, with contorted, torn mattresses, vestiges of the troubled past occupants. Following the stark introduction, the lunatic asylum's story unfolds through anonymous photographs assembled along the walls which describe the life of the residents, a group of demented and their caregivers. Confronted with the destruction brought by World War II and the ensuing reconstruction, then modernization,  it seems that the residents life is relatively undisturbed and carries on through a cycle of celebrations, processions and daily activities. In parallel, the history of psychiatry unfolds and is reflected in the addition of new facilities like a day hospital better adapted to the new treatment methods. A model of the buildings in the center of the room allows a three dimensional view of the site. The patients history  is not forgotten with a display of medical records, personal objects and even medical equipment used at the time. A movie concludes the exhibition, showing sisters in their religious garbs, patients, visitors, interacting, happily walking or resting in the garden, a glimpse in a past closed world generating a bizarre feeling of nostalgia.
Paintings from Philippe Vandenberg and sculptures from Berlinde de Bruyckere are assembled for  Il me faut tout oublier ( I must forget everything) , an exhibition  underlining the close ties between the two Flemish artists which still strive beyond the painter's death in 1999. The works intermingle and create a dialogue in the rooms lined up with paintings, drawings, painted wood panels and filled with sculptures. The paintings from the 1990's favor an expressionistic language describing a Dantesque world of flagellants, infernos and mountainous romantic landscapes bathing in reds, oranges with inscriptions in charcoal "Flageller c'est aimer" (whipping is loving), "Aimer c'est l'enfer" (Loving is hell), for Aimer c'est flageller, 1997-1998 or violent deep violets for Il importe ou le berger se couche, (It matters where the shepherd lays down), 1997-1998, where the flock of sheep resemble lions. In  the next room the mural contrasts by its graffiti style, an assemblage of  pieces of paper stuck to the wall covered with short messages written with multicolored chalks, litanies of words in French and English: "Il me faut tout oublier" (I need to forget everything), "kill them all and dance", "arrêtes de souffrir, nous les massacrerons" (stop hurting, we will massacre them) ... The center-piece is a sculpture from de Bruyckere and the first view of one of her work  leaves an unforgettable impression. Decomposition, suffering, death and metamorphosis resume her sculptures. Through the media, wax, wood, epoxy, metal fabrics and polyester, she creates organic sculptures with colors reminiscent of Francis Bacon's fleshes. Large pieces of wood, like limbs amputated abandoned on metal trestles, rot and leave one imagine the smell of putrefaction and the maggots. The display proceeds to the basement of the red house to discover more  tragic pieces displayed in cell-like white cubicles: wolfs devouring corpses, blood dripping from the artist's own blood, a martyr torn apart cut by a saw in the middle, bodies hanging from trees... Suffering, infernos are followed by a series of watercolors treating of Genesis and Indonesie, 1996, drawings of religious themes transposed in erotic compositions.
Sex, violence, submission, erotic love and also fragile love with more sculptures from Bruykere , smaller but evocative, dialogue with the drawings and paintings and it is no surprise that the two artists were exhibited conjointly in the past.
Dark subjects, madness, suffering, death, are uniting the artists chosen for the Spring exhibition at La Maison Rouge, a courageous choice from the curators.

photographs by the author
translations by the author

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