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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Out of Lines

To celebrate the 25th birthday of the review Raw Vision based in London, La Halle Saint Pierre in Montmartre has assembled the works of eighty-one international "outsiders". From Europe, the United States, India, Japan or Africa, each artist is represented by several pieces for a total of more than four hundred works.
Without theme or chronology, the exhibition is an exuberant show of paintings, sculptures of artists known by a small circle of amateurs of Art Brut. One can discover John Pass with his expressionistic fields of skulls under tormented skies called Resurrection or Collections of Souls, Vonn Strőpp inspired paintings, so busy, with pictures born from pictures, stories from stories, building a world of science-fiction like Embargo, 1985, a war-like scene populated with female warriors, half female, half birds. The elaborate techniques and subjects contrast with the compulsive works from Johann Korec  whose primitive paintings represent coupling in different poses accompanied by an indecipherable text in German below. Madge Gill's (1882-1961) obsessional representations of a female (most likely a self-portrait) with a hat in black clothes caught in colored cobweb-like, suffocating architectures, is followed by the naive, dreamlike works from Pavel Leonov (1920-2011)... We learn that Korec was a shepherd until he reached twenty years of age when he was placed in a psychiatric asylum for the rest of his life, we can read about the tragic life of Madge Gill as each artist is presented with a short biography. Many were diagnosed with severe mental illnesses and had troubled lives. Some started to paint at a young age, others like Scottie Wilson at age 40 after a mental breakdown. The techniques are varied but have in common an obsessive pattern and the repetitive gestures create a personal style easily recognizable for each artist. Inspiration is often related to visions engendering creativity. Augustin Lesage (1876-1954) heard a voice which told him to paint and so he did, delicate lace-like works filled with spirituality. Johann Garber (1947-) represented on the canvas fantasies, hallucinations with saturated ink drawings while August Walla (1936-2001) thought his paintings had the power to protect him.
Some artists are very prolific, like Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) who left an esoteric work composed of 25000 pages of graphics drawn with colored pencils, collages, literary and musical compositions (one of his work was acquired by André Breton), or Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern (1892-1982) invited by the surrealists to participate in their international exhibition. Media can also surprise: Alaize Corbaz, sickly in love with emperor Guillaume II, interned in a psychiatric hospital, would use the juice of pressed petal flowers, toothpaste others use wrapping paper, fabrics, computers like Danczyszak or matches like Pradeep Kumar.
On the second floor an area is dedicated to American Outsiders and it is like being home: Bill TraylorRoy Ferdinand ( 1959-20004) with his violent exotic scenes from New Orleans, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Herbert Singleton from Algiers, Mose Tolliver (1920-2006), Richard Burnside and more.
Such an ambitious exhibition is appropriate to celebrate the magazine which like la Halle Saint Pierre promotes Outsider Art and ignoring borders connects artists and audience.

No photographs were allowed
photographs by the author

Banner at la Halle Saint Pierre
Bill Traylor

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wild, Chakaia Booker

Thanks to "Sculpture for New Orleans", my daily commute is  lined up  with sculptures along the Poydras corridor. Furthermore, I park right across FOCI, an outdoor work from Chakaia Booker.
I discovered the artist a few years ago at the New Orleans Museum of Art where one of her sculpture is included in the permanent collection.
Her medium, rubber tires, exude violence. The rubber produced by forced labor in African countries like Congo is a commodity traded daily and takes a historical, cultural and economic significance. The artist's gesture to create the sculpture transforms the medium into a powerful source of associations. Slashing, slicing, twisting the multi-shades black material, she gives birth to rebellious, lively, rough, exuberant, organic compositions and offers a reflection on colonization,  industrialization, consumerism, environmental concerns. Playing with smoothness and roughness, the reflection of the lights, her pieces transform rubber a rather masculine material into sensuous, haptic works like the piece at NOMA which could represent a headdress for a queen and/or a warrior. The references to her African-American heritage are not lost with the shades of black from the rubber and the scarification marks on the tires. The artist reaches far beyond the New Jersey shorelines where she found her inspiration in the dumps.

My next encounter was during Art Basel Miami Beach where one of her sculpture was displayed in the park surrounding the Bass Museum of Art.

What about the sculpture on Poydras? If the roughness of the material is still present with squares of rubber covering a metal skeleton like the abandoned carapace of a strange animal, the twisted sculpture appears contrived. The lifeless pole with a black tarp-like construction stretched on it, competes with a palm tree and melts in the bleary neighborhood, a no man's land filled with parking lots, the end of the corridor leading to the Interstate.

A sculpture for nowhere.

photographs by the author

sculpture at the NOMA
"FOCI" on Poydras