Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Soutine "l'écorché"

A painting at a time, lost in the permanent collection of a museum or on sale at an art fair, this is usually how Soutine is discovered. The Musee de L'Orangerie is offering a display of the artist's legacy with the exhibition Chaim Soutine, Order out of Chaos featuring the twenty-two works from the Paul Guillaume's collection as a starting point, complemented by works from other venues.

The exhibition is organized by themes and the visit starts with portraits. One of them is Soutine by Modigliani and a self-portrait made in 1918 shows the artist in front of a canvas. The other models, all well-known characters at the time, are frozen in a classical pose inspired by the paintings from the Old  Masters discovered by Soutine during his frequent visits at Le Louvre. They appear detached with an evasive look, hands crossed or flat on their lap, with prominent ears or noses, lips full of disdain. The colors of the clothes are bright, red, blue, green, yellow and contrast with the dark background. The paint applied with vigorous strokes delineates caricatured features.

In contrast, the landscapes assembled in the next room are vibrant, musical in their colors, all inspired by the South of France. The perspectives are skewed. Tortuous roads are climbing the hill or fall from the sky in a vertiginous plunge. Houses are alive, sometimes dark and twisted in threatening compositions or dancing with the wind. The result is a fairy tale like ambiance where even trees can become the central character like in Arbre Couché(Fallen Tree), 1923-24 or L'Arbre Bleu (The Big Blue Tree),1920-21. The empty landscapes are all about nature, inhabited by spirits, alive, full of emotions, influenced by Soutine's childhood memories from Lithuania where he was born.
Expressionism at its best, the paintings reflect the painter's emotions and feelings.

The Gladioli series are next, showing the painter's obsession with his subject. The rendering of the flowers becomes life itself.
Fishes, poultry, vegetables, still lifes are usually not my preferred subject. Rabbits, skates, turkeys...Soutine sill lifes are about suffering, decomposition, death. They reach an acme of violence with the series of Boeufs Ecorches (flayed beef). Inspired by Rembrandt, the paintings made in 1925 depict a slaughtered ox. In the process of  exposing  viscera, muscles, bones splashed in bright colors, red, orange, purple on the large canvas, the painter becomes the butcher and leaves his subject utter the ultimate scream he had been looking for.

The Figures, portraits of anonymous trade people are a testimony of the artist's social awareness. When painting  the pastry chef, the room service waiter, the chambermaid in the same pose than famous models, he provides them with a similar status. Furthermore, Soutine  let them display emotions and creates characters.

The last room is filled with more portraits, mainly females. The painter is merciless when dissecting the soul of his models and the caricatures are almost painful to look at, among them La Fiancée (The Bride), Vieille Femme (Old Woman), La Déchéance, 1920-21.

Now, one Soutine at a time...

No photographs allowed
Photograph Creative Commons
"Portrait of Soutine" by Modigliani, 1916

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Earth and Lights

A visit of local galleries after a month spent in Paris, brought me at The Front, in the Saint-Claude district. Surprise, the entry was blocked by a huge heap of earth, dug from the gallery's backyard. What is happening? Ballenger and Pasco filled the room with (barrels of) water in the past. RAMPART: Positive +Negative, Jonathan Taube and Imen Djouini's installation is not about ecological disasters but tackles another burning subject: borders and their implications. Along the wall, three photographs printed from Google Earth user's imagebank (Palestine, Texas and North Korea) remind us that the landscape, officially a border, can look very romantic. The simple installation brings reflections about displaced populations.

Along the walls of the two backrooms, photographs from the Chicago-based artist Judy Natal. Future Perfect confront the viewer with the semi-reality or the half-dream of a possible world built through the interaction between nature and humans. With her camera she makes us travel from New Mexico to Iceland and other sites, keeping a poetic approach to a difficult subject.

The Staple Goods gallery is all lights with the works from Cynthia Scott. The title of the exhibition "Lumieres" resumes the show.  Previously featured at the CAC, the artist this time has created a more intimate display to fit the size of the gallery.

photographs by the author

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Chantiers", fifty works from Bertrand Lavier

"Things" become art because they are reinterpreted and the association of a stone on top of a refrigerator creates a new entity, this is called hybridization, one of the techniques used by the artist who has a background in horticulture, which explains his approach. The exhibition Bertrant Lavier, since 1969 at the Pompidou in Paris presents several "chantiers" illustrating different concepts developed by the artist over the years: addition, crossing, transposition, grafting, hybridization. A painted object like the grand piano now covered with a thick black coat brings emotions with its rough surface full of crevasses.
The leaf blower above the art deco chest leaves me perplex, the Giulietta, a damaged Alfa Romeo in the middle of the room  has a feel of deja vu,  Arman developed the idea in the past. The reinterpretation of Stella's work in neon is visually challenging. Maybe the small mobile from Calder above a refrigerator from the Calder brand is intended as a pun?  The cold, white, angular shaped freezer contrasts with the sensuous red lipped sofa from Dali and so on.

An interesting area includes a collection of objects mounted on pedestals, like sculptures in a museum. The skateboard, the motorcycle helmet, a saw become symbols and the shining African sculpture cast in nickel-plated bronze looses its status and becomes an object.

The curator of the exhibition makes the visit entertaining and informative with the works grouped into four themes: after the readymade: form and feeling, new impressions of Africa, the photo without camera, the art of transposition.
The Surrealists collected objects to stimulate creativity. The artist claims that his creations, sums of two objects are more than each object and he aims to bring  emotions to the readymade.
However the humorless work stays remote and dry.

photographs by the author:
"Burgundy Stone on refrigerator" 1989
"Ibo", 2008
"La Bocca/Bosch", 2005

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Serious Laugh at the Fondation Cartier

The advertisements in the metro are defying every French passenger: a man decapitated, holding his head, laughing.
This is the invitation to see the latest exhibition at the Fondation Cartier,  a first in Europe, forty paintings from Yue Minjun for "L'Ombre du Fou Rire". The artist who lives in Beijing, stays discreet about his life and political views, his work speaks for itself.

Starting on a joyous note, the early works from the 1990's are showing a group of friends, on an outing near a river or visiting a landmark in the painting On the Rostrum of Tiananmen, 1992, laughing at the viewer in a pose fit for a photograph. The sky is blue with a few white puffs, however, fighter planes in the background are ominous in Artist with his Friends, 1991, and the artist's expression is closer to a rictus than a laugh.
The tone of the work defines itself during the following years, with a subtle mixture of humor and cynicism as the style of the artist matures. He chooses a cartoonish representation of himself set in surrealistic surroundings. The preferred colors include a sour pink for the face, a baby blue or a flat orange for the sky. Black is for the mouth, hairs and contrasts with the flawless white teeth and the red lips. The eyes are closed. The laugh resonates throughout the room, obsessional and defiant. The cloning of the artist to represent groups, crowds, produces uniformity, anonymity and depersonalisation.

In the basement, the works take an epic dimension. The artist interprets masterpieces of Western art and gives them a fresh look. The Execution of the Emperor Maximilien of Mexico by Manet becomes The Execution. In the tense scene, the only missing  items are ...the weapons. Instead, an empty space separates the executioners from their target, four times the artist, laughing. A copy of The Death of Marat from Jacques-Louis David without Marat creates an expectation. Who will be next in the bloody bath? The same theme inspires the copy of The Founding Ceremony of the Nation from Dong Xiwen, 1953, Mao is missing. The central character becomes secondary and the decor essential, a stage ready for the next actor (politician). History repeats itself. Still laughing, the painter represents The Massacre at ChiosFreedom Leading the People, very serious themes indeed and the contrast between the subject and the callous laugh is chilling.

In an adjacent room, a hundred sketches and drawings give an insight into the process of creativity and are a witness to the artist's research. More paintings with the artist borrowing the body of a dinosaur, birds flying, or locked in an impossible embrace with copies of himself.
But the work becomes repetitive and the laugh lasting too long, annoying.
What I will remember about the exhibition? A laugh of despair.

no photographs allowed
photograph of the admission ticket by the author

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

An American in Paris

The number of visitors for the current exhibition at the Grand Palais is beating all  records.
 Edward Hopper is on everybody's mind in Paris: or you did see the exhibition or you did not. Being part of the latter is almost embarrassing. I saw Soutine, Dali, Van Gogh, Yue Minjun,  but...I missed Edward Hopper.
My third attempt was thwarted when after standing for one hour, I realized that my only progress in the line was due to people getting closer to each other to fight the cold and a sign stated that it would be three hours before we would be able to get in the building (the day before was five hours).

Back to the States, I missed Hopper in Paris!

photograph by the author
"Nighthawks", Edward Hopper, 1942, at the Art Institute of Chicago

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Van Gogh, the Japanese

Hidden on a side street, near Fauchon at La MadeleineLa Pinacotheque de Paris offers didactic and thought provoking exhibitions. The latest is dedicated to Van Gogh and the influence of Japanese prints on his works, in particular the prints from Hiroshige, the Master of Edo (Tokyo).
By the mid-nineteenth century, Japan had opened its borders to foreigners and collecting Japanese prints became fashionable. Samuel Bing offers Japanese art in his gallery, and Theo, Van Gogh's brother, collects more than four hundred prints now housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

With forty paintings from Van Gogh, the curator makes the point. Next to each painting, copies or details of the print which matches the work reveal Van Gogh's source of inspiration. Structure, composition, movement, colors, even the subject acquire a Japanese flavor. Excerpts from Van Gogh's letters to Theo, displayed on the walls are a testimony to his interest for the Japanese culture, art and its religion. He is spending 1888 in the South of France where he has "discovered Japan". 
Art allows a symbiosis between the quiet, serene world of the Japanese artist and the hallucinatory, schizophrenic world of Van Gogh.     
Van Gogh communicates an inner energy with his fluid but precise stroke. The thick paint on the canvas has an earthy feel illuminated by an ethereal light, a celebration of life at the time when the artist is sinking deeper in a state of dementia.

no photographs allowed
Wiki media
"The Blooming Plum tree", 1887, Van Gogh next to "Plum trees in Kameido", Hiroshige
"The Olive Trees" 1889, Van Gogh