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October 13 2008 2 13 /10 /October /2008 19:04

Following the example of Norman Bates, the unobtrusive hero of Psycho, Benoît-Marie Moriceau is fond of a certain style of taxidermy. In Psycho, he stretches an absolute black skin on a mansion skeleton: a solidification of Mrs. Bates or the Mummy returns?


It looks like psychosis. Well, like Psycho actually. Not Hitchcock's movie but Van Sant's version. It looks like a cover, an interpretation, an homage and a distant, critical copy.

The original version of Psycho is from 1960 (a time when looking at Janet Leigh's underwear were censored...). The story relies on a simple and classical dichotomy between Good and Evil, visually expressed by the contrasted use of black and white and vertical and horizontal opposition. This latter is emphasized by Norman Bates' motel against the famous house of the mother on top of the hill. A mansion that became notorious, a real archetype of the horror house, definitively implemented within our collective imagination. Hitchcock wanted it to symbolize the American Gothic, mixing The Addams Family House with Edward Hopper's House by the Railroad painting. Born from Art, it only made sense that it turned over, covered again, embezzled, fantasized, directly or not. In Sarah Woodbine's Alfred's Story, the drawing of the house haunts the background of a scale model that obviously refers to the suspense master.

Psycho is also the title that Benoît-Marie Moriceau decided to give to one of his pieces. At the Espace 40m3 - Le Château, Rennes, he offers a simple project. He's completely re-covered this town house, and its evocative tower, with black paint. Sort of a 3D monochrome. The house becomes suddenly frightening, and turns into a giant sculpture, a sort of black monolith, the one which appears on Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey. An installation in which we cannot enter, which rejects us. We're not used to receiving this sort of attitude, we are not used to suffering in the face of art, we're used to getting everything easily. Actually, it is a work of emptiness, of absence. There is nothing to see or do except to feel black. A colorful experiment that reminds us the (no-) interventionism of Yves Klein. A conceptual dialectic that suggests rediscovering our environment. An urban Land Art work. A graffiti that would have degenerated....


moriceau


Not that many artists deal with issues linked to architecture. Gordon Matta-Clark was the Old Master, but he died 30 years ago. The modus operandi consisting in reinterpretating an pre-existing construction is not a brand new thing. There are other ‘wrapping' and exciting examples. The act of Moriceau remains unusual. Maybe we could compare it to the work of German artist Gregor Schneider. Surprisingly, he also alludes to a scene from Psycho in Die families Schneider, Walden Street 14, a performance-installation dealing with banality and imprisonment. The link is clearer when a man takes a shower behind a translucent shower curtain, giving us the opportunity to consider ourselves as potential killers. The piece Das Schwarze Quadrate, homage an Malewitsch is more obviously in relationship with Moriceau work. The homage to Malevitsch distracts attention from the mere copy of the Ka'ba, the sacred cube in the Mecca, which directs Muslims prayers (the Koranic verses of the kiswa are erased). A work that comes close to debating, especially when it looks like... psychosis (we already warned you)!

Be that as it may, Psycho by Benoît-Marie Moriceau is a scheming piece with a fascinating aesthetic. It succeeds in providing us with a new reading grid for architecture, playing with exterior instead of interior space. One might object that the paint used can be removed with water. It would have been so powerful to leave the house irremediably stuck into its blackness, defying the city: as a useful public sculpture? A miracle! A masterstroke! As a sequence of 90 shots, 70 different camera angles for a 45-second scene. Well, I guess that, in this case, Beauty is a question of ephemerality...


[Photo : Benoît-Marie Moriceau, Psycho, 2007, production 40m3. Photo Laurent Grivet. Copyright: B-M Moriceau]

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October 6 2008 2 06 /10 /October /2008 19:12

There's been recent discussions about the sensitive frontier between art and popular culture concerning Tom Friedman works. Jeremy Deller gives us an answer with his exhibition at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, "From a revolution to another" (September 26th, 2008 - January 4th, 2009)

 
He's decided to abolish every boundary defining artists and craftsmen, art and art brut, high and low culture and to assume his role as a free curator. No constraints here for his giant installation of Folk Archives, merely British with some French and Russian stuffs. The exhibition is dense and hard to understand for both specialists and beginners, kind of a wished upon art democracy. Democracy can be shown through the display: as certified an artist as Scott King is, he receives the same treatment as anonymous creators. Values and judgments are weakened and one major lesson emerges: Jeremy Deller is a great artist. He is brilliant, particularly when he deals with collectivities and high scale ensemble projects. He is a talented curator, a real conductor.

What's most surprising in this exhibition is the Deller's proposition to dive into an unfamiliar reality. We are not talking about Uncanny (psychoanalytic slapstick) but "From a revolution to another" allows us to immerse into a slipping everyday routine. A kind of hyperreality is created which alludes to Dump, a work from "Superdome", Palais de Tokyo's most recent exhibition. Christoph Büchel's Dump was an ascent in an abyss. A door opened to an evil place above the Earth, a reverse paradise lost, a feeling that everything that was buried and hidden suddenly reappeared. In front of thousands of everyday objects we'd rather ignore, Büchel offered a hyperreality opened on a blurred and disconcerting existence. The two wills are similar and want to show an existing reality that we are not fully conscious of, an escaping space which shouts at us: simply two works of art.


Büchel


Jeremy Deller and Christoph Büchel share a common rock passion and a highly social and political consciousness. Deller won the prestigious Turner Prize in 2005 with Battle of Orgreave, a vivid reconstruction of a battle between miners and police in the mid-1980s miners strike. Büchel excited the art world with the demoniac installation (all interpretations allowed) Simply Botiful at Hauser & Wirth, London. It is incompressible and indivisible but we can try to cut off a significant example: a set of copies of Mein Kampf (Hitler, 1923) translated into Arabic, among a pile of prayer mats woven with motifs celebrating the events of 9/11. Well, a pretty thoughtless and carefree environment.... This set incarnates absolute Evil and deals with Israeli and Arabs conflict, international events in Middle East but it also reminds that the first translation of the book dates back to early 1930s, and that the first French editor, Fernand Sorlot, compared, in his Advertising, its influence on people to...the Koran.

This set of copies has been sold at the Frieze Art Fair 2006 edition by Hauser & Wirth Gallery. Quickly sold, quickly removed. Afraid of eventual retaliations? Absolutely not! People were stealing the books. When reality becomes stranger and frightener than fiction.... "Why would anyone want to walk around an art fair with a copy of Mein Kampf ?" questioned the dealer Iwan Wirth. Probably people who wished to take apart a piece of "fantastic" reality, happy to access the hyperreality art had created. As fascinating as Clare Family's mechanical elephant, as hard-hitting as Ed Hall's Anti Nazi League banner fluttering on Palais de Tokyo's ceiling.


[Photo : vue d'exposition Carte Blanche à Jeremy Deller - Folk archive, Ed Hall, 2008. Photo : Marc Domage]

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September 29 2008 2 29 /09 /September /2008 19:26

The exhibition « Traces du Sacré » at the Pompidou Center , Paris (May 7th - August 11th 2008) left traces


Questioning the place, disappearance and return of a « religious feeling » in art is a delicate interrogation. And particularly during such confused times as ours. Art is often linked to metaphysics and the miraculous and creative author, the artist, becomes rapidly somewhat of a shaman, a priest, a pop, a god. The latest self-declared "art shaman" is Matthew Stone but there were dozens of them in the last century. From Beuys, the adventurer risen from the dead, to Malevitch, the supremacist pioneer, via Hirst, Rothko, Acconci.... The waiting list grows.
Questioning the place, disappearance and return of a « religious feeling » in art is a delicate interrogation. And particularly during such confused times as ours. Art is often linked to metaphysics and the miraculous and creative author, the artist, becomes rapidly somewhat of a shaman, a priest, a pop, a god. The latest self-declared "art shaman" is Matthew Stone but there were dozens of them in the last century. From Beuys, the adventurer risen from the dead, to Malevitch, the supremacist pioneer, via Hirst, Rothko, Acconci.... The waiting list grows.

But, somehow, two names keep coming back regularly, or at least have been for the last 5,000 years of (conscious) creation. That‘s a lot of people, including a few stars... But only two chosen ones remain: Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.

Here comes the anxious reader, thinking frantically: "You are not going to speak evil of Duchamp and Warhol.... How dare you?" A dreadful and unforgivable crime, a violation, like those bad taste caricatures you can find atop La Butte. Immediate condemnation. Execution. Of course, Warhol and Duchamp are two mere art genius and often empowered as factice gods for bad reasons. Somewhere between the shoe designer and the king of "Be quiet, Marcel! They don't get it. Shut up, and you won't say crap!" strategy, we could consider a new historical approach.

One might even think that they were two unhappy innocents creatures. Well, not that innocent. They both obviously wanted to be glorified and to attain mythical work... until fossilization. Maybe they didn't claim for such a result. Let's take an example. "Theft is Vision" (JRP/Ringier ed.) is a great collection of articles and interviews by art critic and American curator Robert Nickas. There's the snag: half of the articles quote Duchamp and two-thirds of them quote Warhol (probably due to American solidarity....). Is there really nobody else to speak about, or to write about?


Warhol

This kind of artistic deification could be laughed at. However, it reflects a larger trend. Young people in France are discovering Leonard Cohen's cold and broken "Hallelujah" as covered by Jeff Buckley. The heavy on-air rotation could make you spit up your Host. Society seems to regain its faith in a post-nietzsche dead God. Such a return to religion is never neutral and appears to be the sign of our loss of marks and referents. In this instance, you'd better hold on to trustworthy people... Like Andy and Marcel.

Opposed to this pathological "duomania", some artists choose variety and dispersion. Take the exhibition "From the voice to the hand" by Melik Ohanian (does it refer to Nauman's "from hand to mouth" covered by Marclay's "from hand to ear"?) at the Plateau, Paris, from September 18th to November 23th 2008. A long line of white neon lights enlighten small piles of letters (as in a-b-c, not mail) put on the floor or grouped together along side walls. Upon the neon lights, a long litany of names, a learned assembly of philosophers, thinkers and erudite writers. We'll reveal the surprise: the piles of letters refer to a quote by each personality named above. Too easy for you? The artist has taken a letter from each pile in order to complicate the game.... Ok, that's much better now! Let's play! The installation is beautiful, Ohanian is (usually) a good artist, that's not the issue. The piece does not allow any sort of comprehension. It is a fruitless, useless rampart. It symbolizes the excessive multiplicity of historical gathering points. This is a massive trend in art since the rise of artistic post-modernism at the beginning of the 1980s, known as name-dropping. An accumulation of quotation including names of people, artists, writers or cultural personalities. A way to reassure yourself and fill up an embarrassing void on sacrosanct speech about your work of art. While the referents are not judged, the way some artists use them, is. Some artists know what to do with them, some of them don't. More precisely, storing up references to the verge of incomprehension is nonsense. In that case, it's better to quote just... Warhol and Duchamp.


[Photo : Andy Warhol, Last supper, 1986. peinture polymer synthétique, poussière de diamant, peinture à soie sur toile. Copyright : Andy Warhol Foundation for the visual arts, ARS, New York]

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September 22 2008 2 22 /09 /September /2008 19:21

Yesterday and Today. The works of Jeff Koons exhibited into the classical decor of the Versailles Palace obviously come as a shock between former and contemporary style.

 
A travesty, a stylistic collision, a visual anomaly. Like The Beatles posing, dressed up as butchers, covered with dismembered dolls and meat chunks, and laughing at this absurd situation. Like the cover of.... Yesterday and Today.

 
Beatles

"If the Beatles had made sculptures, they would probably look like mine". Koons introduces, by this comparison, the notion of bipolarity into his work, his faculty to split and multiply accesses and interpretations. It perfectly fits the "Jeff Koons - Versailles" exhibition (Did they hold a meeting before choosing such a punchy title?). Once again, Koons' joke is anything but neutral. As a matter of fact, when Capitol Records realized the unlikelihood of said cover for the American market and the possibly disastrous repercussions on the Beatles' image towards their audience, the record company decided to stick a new cover (four Beatles quietly sat around a steamer trunk) as a replacement for the original. The superposition of work's reading grid could hardly be clearer. Equivalently, Koons, after his directly provocative series Made in Heaven, changed his strategy and tried to insidiously intrude the market. He notably worked on surface, one of the major components of his work. The steel made Balloon Dog, Louis XIV and Balloon Flower are some of the obvious pieces.

When McCartney composed Yesterday (the most covered song of all times, a phenomenon that should be analyzed...), he was totally convinced that he already knew the song (he declared he'd actually dreamt it). Worried, he investigated and asked that his entourage find the genuine one. "If no-one claims it after a few weeks, then I can have it". He considered the song as a mere musical ready-made. The same déjà-vu feeling can be found into Koons' work, even though his work is highly personal and deeply linked to his personality. Ready-made artifacts can be real works of art: Lobster, Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train or Ushering in Banality, already signed. Jeff Koons' work is about falsehood, appearance, like the press photographs with Rabbit and Moon in which galleries and workshops upside down views are reflected then artificially put into their future site.

The money dialectic is at the heart of Koons' work. The prices are more disputed than the quality of his pieces and most people forget what created interest for and reputation of the American giant. This monetary issue deprives the exhibition of new and unseen works. The most recent piece is the reactivated Chainlink from 2002. Like a reversed symbol, Yesterday and Today is the only album the Beatles published for Capitol Records with a deficit. Cover shame costs.

Michael Jackson & Bubbles in the Venus Salon or Pink Panther in the Peace Salon are both perfectly polished. Koons can disregard sarcasms. He claims a position filled up with fierce humor and laughs at his arrogant success. Such a dark sense of humor shows through Yesterday and Today, which contributed to the Beatles' persona. Robert Whitaker took the cover photograph. He wanted to mix Bellmer, Oppenheim and Surrealism. He also showed that the Fab Four were much more virulent than their polite faces seem to show.

Lennon, always delicate into his declarations, said that the Yesterday and Today cover was "as relevant as the Vietnam War". Koons knows how to be tactful too. Provocative and brave. These two words are for the Versailles Palace Committee, who accepted bringing Koons upfront, hiding its antique treasures. Despite what politics or critics might think. There is no integration, but a disintegration of the place, an invading strategy (including Large vase of Flowers in Queen's Bedroom), which is a nice change from the dull "white cube". Even the cartels are proportional.

The windows protecting the works, like John, Paul, Ringo and George's haircuts, are definitively not necessary. They spoil the apprehension of the pieces and introduce a regrettable distance. Are they afraid of an art attempt? We can also regret the somewhat too didactic display (Bear and Policeman in the War Salon, New Hoover Convertibles in the Grand Couvert Anteroom) even if it makes comprehension easier for people at large, and specifically concerning wished confrontations.

Like his Split Rocker, Jeff Koons is a two-headed monster... or shows two sides of the same sweet monster. Half-Dino and half-Pony, 100,000 flowers smell good, too good and their perfume intoxicate us with their bitter scent, cover up the violence, put us to sleep. Jeff Koons molded a character and created himself in line with his work, not the other way around. He is smooth, reliable, self-confident, nothing grips him. He is deep, he looks at himself being one of the greatest artist of our time (Self-portrait on the Apollo Salon). He masters artistic strategies and theories that he has clearly revolutionized. As smooth as Lennon's smile on the "butcher cover", certain that an honorific place is waiting for him for his musical revolution and his indelible imprint on Western culture. Both are adulated by the crowd, admired by connoisseurs, both are two sacred monsters, having planned with mastery the reversal of our contemporary society's values.

Let us add that this is the first retrospective of Koons' work in France, from September 10th to December14th 2008, in Versailles, the city which welcomed the Beatles first French show. The cycle is complete. So, if the Beatles had made sculptures, would they look like Koons'? Well, let's say that Koons' sculptures are similar to Beatles' image, both pervert in their superficiality, vaguely deep in their implications, universal in their appearance of simplicity.

In summary, Jeff Koons - Versailles? A quaint butchery...


[Photo : Couverture de Yesterday and Today des Beattles]

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September 10 2008 4 10 /09 /September /2008 13:09

A few months ago, Audi launched its new car. The TV ad miraculously succeeded in reminding not only of Andy Warhol but also of Andreas Gursky and Katarina Fritsch.

 
A man (a senior executive of course...) gazes at the swarming city out the window of his ivory tower. He remembers running with friends (anima sana in corpore sano), then purchasing some Campbell soup cans (Andy, a luxury representative for a lifetime... and beyond). The camera moves and discovers a faithful copy of Gursky’s 99 cent. Finally, he walks in front of plastered models (between Fritsch’s Company at table and dealer works), a kind of Xi’an army, soldiers trapped on white-collar suits as modern armors: double layer images.

Images stand for an ordinary everyday life, allowing us to understand the way out offered by the new Audi A4. This way out is precisely the one Art used to deal with when the mentioned works of art pointed out the same half-heartedness and conformity. The iconic work of art returns to life, useable again.
 
A dizzy, swirling turnstile with appropriation strategies, mixing a consumer society that equally glorifies and self-destructs, with Art, quoted, disembodied, advertized. The second point of comprehension of the message (relative to Barthes semiotic) would be the conniving allusion between Audi and its customers. Definitively, we share common values, like art and... money. Art becomes therefore an interpretative and almost subliminal sign.
 
Same story, a few days back. A woman, lying on a couch, faces a set wall. A simple detail draws our attention: the wall, the couch and the actress’ dress are similarly black-and-white-striped, fitting the ensemble in covering lines. Specifically, the shot is a mere copy of Vanessa Beecroft’s Ponti Sister performance.
 
Suddenly, the woman stands up and goes through the wall (as Bourvil in the Passe-muraille movie) and magically appears on the other side of the stripped wall, dressed in a bright sparkling dress, finally free from her captive suit, like a convict extracted from a Lucky Luke comic book. What product could so subtly use Beecroft’s work? Menstrual pads, but of course! What else could hijack the artist’s ambiguous actions and turn them into a literal, charmless and questionable interpretation? That’s right, Ponti Sister is just an image on glossy paper (or more surely, taken from a Google research) and for an advertising executive, a simple image that becomes useable, modifiable, reduced to a sign.

  
 

This latter is the representation of woman status for ever overridden and imprisoned (Don’t even get me started on Agnes Turnauer!). Reducing Beecroft to a lazy woman on a couch, Warhol to a can of soup, Gursky to a supermarket photograph, Fritsch to a miserable costume designer is not simply the interpretation given by advertising, that terrible and corrupt machine we sometimes abusively portray : we bear some responsibility in the process.
 
If Tf1 (the main French private channel) admittedly sells “expendable brain time” to Coca-Cola, image in general and particularly in Art remains a complex and disturbing question. The increasing number of artwork images in circulation, wished by Malraux and his Imaginary Museum, are spreading and penetrating the thinnest layers of society, including advertising.
 
Is it a dangerous drift? Is it really disturbing? The problem seems to be, more obviously, the increasing number of plundering and counterfeits, which does put jeopardize Art. Do thousands of underground Chinese workers hide behind advertising executives? I guess nothing does resist to a cliché....


[Photo : Vanessa Beecroft, Ponti Sister, 2001. Courtesy the artist & Vista Mare Cultural Association, Pescara, Italy]

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