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November 24 2008 2 24 /11 /November /2008 18:36

(Previously) The suicide is a recurrent topic of contemporary art. Unfortunately, the reverse is true. 

Following the morbid success of Goethe’s The sorrows of young Werther, the archetypal romantic artist considered the suicide as a possible, worthy and ambitious end. The baudelarian ethers attracted the youth trapped between an industrialized and frenzied rationalism and a declining religion. The solution of the deliberate death allowed the artist to remain master of his destiny and to avoid the personal decay and the corruption of a rejected society. The myth of the damned artist continued and let dead bodies everywhere: Vincent Van Gogh (shotgun), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (Nazi persecution), Arshile Gorky (hanging), Nicolas de Staël (defenestration)… 

What about nowadays? Is the artist still a “suicide by society”? We are not going to do a simple and sinister obituary, or question the motivations that push him to “be blue”. We are more likely to question the possibility to reread this extreme acting out of a central character concerning the interpretation and his mirror position he plays in our society. 

During last months, three artists have proved that the romantic myth of the damned artist is still “alive”. Angus Fairhurst, hanged up to a tree (an odinist gesture?) was one of the Young British Artists, not the most famous, but certainly of one the most relevant. He lets behind him a protean work, humoristic and intensively reflexive. Jeremy Blake (who did the cover of Beck’s Sea change album) killed himself after finding his girlfriend’s dead body, the film director Theresa Ducan, who died by her own hand too. We can hardly imagine more specifically romantic or shakespearian end…. More recently, the disappearance of Edouard Levé left a bad taste. Few days after having given the manuscript of his last book titled Suicide to his editor, he killed himself. His fictional photographs series are full of a totally frightening everyday nature. Of course, it’s tantalizing to reread the pieces of these artists according to their tragic end : Angoisse by Levé, Pietà by Fairhurst, Angel Dust by Blake. These latteacrr point to the fatal aspiration of their authors. An adequacy between the life and the work that reminds Proust vs. Sainte-Beuve. It’s probably dangerous to try to rewrite history, to psychologically analyze the works. Though, as Sartre said, we can think that the artistic act is completely engaging, a trace of the artist is certainly present at the surface of the creation. But it’s a trail, not a self-portrait. 

A comparison to the rock universe can be interesting. The greatest rock stars who killed themselves benefit from a specific aura and a repositioning of their work into music history: Jim Morrison (if we accept overdose as a suicide) and Kurt Cobain are now idolized icons, Ian Curtis and Elliot Smith exit from their confidentiality and underground respect. Death gives to dead bodies the recognition of a free author, extreme, defying god, dissenter. A dangerous vision for the “followers” but that is restricted to fans of rock stars, not artists. Art collectors do not imitate and kill themselves… they rub their hand in glee. 

That’s true, happily or not, like the accident leads the driver to slow down and watch the spectacle, the suicide highlights the dead. It enables to (re)launch a carrier and no one can avoid a post-commercial appropriation of his death. Almost mechanically at the beginning because, the production ending, the pieces available rarefy. The typical case is the young dead Jean-Michel Basquiat, star of the blasted artist sales. The most amazing rediscovery has been Robert Malaval, exhibited pomp and circumstance at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2005. Actually, this sinister highlighting can benefit to a great and unfairly forgotten artist. That’s the case of Marc Psalidas, a great painter, using an aesthetic of primitive symbolism and who would be worthy of receiving the cold sun of recognition. 

The suicide is an ultimate act that could almost be considered as an artistic gesture, an aesthetic testament. Ray Johnson’ death, a pioneer of English Pop Art, is perceived as an experimental “nothing”. Rothko explored the “colorfield painting” and colors’ limits with his own sacrificial blood. Rudolf Schwarzkogler reached a mythical status thanks to his legendary (and fake) suicide by self-castration, vestige of a performance (Action 3). A grand gesture that marks history. 

It remains the mysterious suicides: Pollock who destroys himself in a car, Ana Mendieta, Carl Andre’s girlfriend, who is glued between murder and deliberate death, art which regularly dies, murdered by itself. No panic, considering this latter, it’s fake: not a hanging, a bungee jump…

[Picture : Jeremy Blake, Sodium Fox, 2005. Sequence from DVD with sound. 14 minute continuous loop. Courtesy Feigen Contemporary & J. Blake]

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November 17 2008 2 17 /11 /November /2008 16:51

Suicidal Tendencies
. Is suicide trendy? Really? Or, in our general crisis times, the tendency to be suicidal is growing up?

Suicidal Tendencies
is the title of the most recent Bruno Peinado’s exhibition at the Manet Gallery in Gennevilliers and it’s anything but a neutral choice. The S.T. Crew (Suicidal for life!) has recognized the name of the Californian skate punk cult band, but the very approach Peinado uses in his work includes other issues of the deliberate death: social, cultural, artistic; between embezzlement, nostalgia and denunciation of more or less deliberated suicides. The suicide is still quite a taboo theme in our sterilized societies. We try to hide every confrontation to death, and specifically for its most condemned form. Fortunately, art remains a free experimental field where we can exceed our inhibitions, fears and limits (a well-accepted process here, like Oleg Kulik’s example shows us in Paris or elsewhere, like Wim Delvoye’s tattooed pigs in Shangai….). 

The suicide is frequent in art history, as a mythological or realistic subject (The death of Cleopatra by Alessandro Turchi or The Suicide by Edouard Manet). Logically, it is still a study object today. Well, other days, other ways. During the Antic Rome, it was considered as an ethic and courageous sign. Now, 2,000 years of Christianity later, it is a condemnable and condemned act (the book Suicide : mode d’emploi by C. Guillon et Y. Le Bonniec, ed. A. Moreau is prohibited in France since 1987….). 

Artists choose different strategies to represent the tragic vision of the end of the life. First of all, the humor. Even if artists try to play things down, there is always a disturbing and worrying way besides the funny misappropriations. The solitary squirrel from Bidibidobidiboo by Maurizio Cattelan is a strange mirror of our tragic lives, of a lost humanity. The Saut dans le Vide by Yves Klein (the first is from 1960… he miraculously (!) jumped again) highlights the fall and rise of the luciferian artist and plays with the image power. An other vision, the Professeur Suicide by Alain Séchas is an experiment of the mysterious. As usual, Séchas uses irony and fierce discrepancy to point the needle where it hurts.

On the contrary, different artists pitch on direct representation. Some of them do not hesitate to put one’s foot in it, and even one’s hand. The best example, as usual, is Andres Serrano. The photographs from "The Morgue" series include many suicides (Rat Poison Suicide I & II, Shotgun Suicide) and leave us alone on a frightening and esthetical close-up with the death. Slightly outdistanced, Sam Samore’s "The Suicidist" series simulates photographed suicide, reminding Weegee’s aesthetic and Jeff Wall’s staging. The images, frozen but surprisingly alive, come out of pathos. Three hanged-up to come: The magical and mythical Jan Fabre’s Self-portrait as a devil-artist, Gino de Domenici’s’ Untitled (that was recently the cover of Flash Art), full of the typical mystery and loneliness of the artist work, and then, Anja Niemi, for her magnificent and ghostly The Coward Suicide, tactfully retiring.

Famous suicides: The Death of Kurt Cobain by Sandow Birk (a cover of Thomas Chatterton by Henry Wallis) confirms the symbolic status of the cursed star from Seattle. Conceptualized suicides : Anthem (twin-suicide) and Anthem (to future suicide) by Banks Violette, a referenced minimalism added to a tragic coldness. Expatriate suicides: Suicide Series by Wei Quangqing, Suicide by Zhang Dali. Helped suicides : the Fluxus Suicide Kit (Ben, Brecht, Maciunas…). Even Claude Lévêque welcomes us to Suicide Park . Suicides everywhere and forever… a real invasion!

This meaningful topic is widely represented nowadays. It is a reflection of the out of the ordinary situation of the artist, a romantic reminiscence, and of our drifting and lost situation. It goes with the over represented skull as symbol of vanity. The suicide is an act sociologically complex, relying numerous and different worlds such as philosophy, psychiatry, religion. It allows artist to work after possible explorative ways, from the deepest subtle one to the most outrageously sensationalist’s. 

The young artist Kepa Garraza, in the "Y los llamamos ángeles caídos" series, paints famous dead artists, most of them suicide, in their fatidic act. A phenomenon dealing with ambivalent attitudes, between despair and absolute research of freedom. A misery rises to an artistic paradigm. 

To be (hopefully) continued.

[Picture : Sam Samore, The Suicidist (continued) (#07), 2003. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Galerie Anne de Villepoix, Paris & S. Samore]

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November 13 2008 5 13 /11 /November /2008 07:45




From 1 November to 20 December 2008, the gallery Nordine Zidoun exposes the work of the African-American photographer Renee Cox.


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November 10 2008 2 10 /11 /November /2008 16:17

The INSEE recently published a study with figures that suggest French people are much happier after they turn 60. At the same time, the SNCF (French railroad) workers, as per unusual, go on strike once again, to protest a motion delaying the age of retirement. This could plummet the figures of happiness of our little old men. So, for once, and in order to block surrounding gloominess, we’ve decided to introduce an upbeat senior who’s chosen to keep working surrounded by joy and happiness. Our program does not include basket weaving or cross-stitching, but focuses, rather, on a form of antique theatre: tragedy. Let us study together the “tragedy of life” (Hegel) because, definitely, “life does not give presents” (Tragedie)….


“The dust rose from Hector as he was being dragged along, his dark hair flew all abroad, and his head once so comely was laid low on earth, for Jove had now delivered him into the hands of his foes to do him outrage in his own land”. (*)
That’s the way you feel as you exit a Paul McCarthy exhibition: dragged, jolted, and mistreated, like Hector’s body behind Achilles’ chariot. McCarthy keeps himself busy fooling his audience, swept away like his own blood and thunder puppets in his movies, in a whirlwind B movie tragedy. 
Hey, you cannot deal with madness and yet remain unpunished, you cannot offend a corpse without putting yourself at risk. Struck by Hubris, McCarthy risks nemesis, divina and politica. Obviously, there is outrageousness in his work: material, in the Frigate, a 5-meter high pirate hull, or psychological, like in his Pirate Party series, a great and evil profusion of widescreens. The latter offers demonstrations and sounds that become muddled in an outburst, which reminds Fresh Acconci’s entangled bodies. One becomes aware of subtle differences between Kant and Schiller’s visions of the sublime.  




The greatest strength in McCarthy’s work can be seen in an other version of his outrageousness, the multiplication of used medias and their interaction inside the creative process. For instance, the Pirates series allow McCarthy to explore new territories such as intimate videos hidden on an abandoned boat (Houseboat), or giant and orgiastic showing format (Caribbean Pirates); the sculpture, fully constructed, or in its model state; the deserted leftovers of performances, empty theatres, or photograph remainders; vestiges of fluids (ketchup and so on) or exhibited ritual objects (masks notably, knives).
An other example of McCarthy’s mastering of supposed chaos, his ordained disorder, is the display and the art fetishism. In his sculptural portion, we find his icons that made his reputation: Santa, Tomato Head or Bear & Rabbit. McCarthy tries to avoid glorification and recognition by staging them. Or, more precisely, by not staging them. He exhibits them in or above their own truck boxes, often dismembered, separated, incomplete, mutilated, sculptures are only ersatz of themselves. McCarthy successfully creates simulacrums of his pieces. He gives us a chance to see behind the scene and reaffirms the reification of his art. Nonetheless, he perniciously introduces an ambiguous feeling in front of his artworks. The relation to the pieces changes, alters itself and, by reducing the detachment to the works, creates an intimacy that gives birth to a higher devotion. McCarthy accesses to elevation through denial. He digs furrows of his glory -from underneath.  





Abu Graïb’s prisoners, Bin Laden hunting Bush hounding Bin Laden or Bush self-stimulating (the Bush Pieces): Is McCarthy becoming serious? No, of course not. McCarthy is ketchup, not blood. Is he a child, a dreamer, a polymorphous pervert, certainly, a boy whom best friend is a rabbit with a 12-meter long latex penis (Spaghetti Man), who is a close relative of Michael Jackson (Michael Jackson White & Black)? Here we go: depravity gets close again. Because McCarthy twirls around. We cannot grab his art, as Genet seen by Sartre. Genet precisely is obviously a reference, the beauty into the horror, the wish to self-deteriorate, to dress up in light. A constant round-trip between Dionysus and Apollo, a form of art, finally, that can give birth to tragedy. 
A tragic, tragicomic author, McCarthy’s work is a huge playground, a modern fairy tale that is supposed to help us switch from “immaturity to maturity” (Bettelheim). McCarthy, in a last reversal, embodies the role of the Greek god and bends down to punish us for our sins, our deviances, our buried, Hollywood, monsters. But McCarthy is magnanimous, tender like Achilles accepting Priam’s claim. He releases his prey and leaves us, lying down, defeated, wrongfully dead (as his self-portrait, Dreaming, asleep in silicon), free at last to go back and pay our retirement’s contribution…

(*) : Iliad, book 22, Homer. The fussiest amongst you (proof of said fussiness is that you are actually reading an asterisk referent) have perfectly well noticed that Homer’s work is not, precisely, a tragedy. Yet, the epic is full of heroically tragic content, like the aforementioned one. Thank you for your comprehension… you bunch of g(r)eeks!

 

[Photos : above : McCarthy, Caribbean Pirates, 2001-2005, in collaboration with Damon McCarthy. Performance. Photograph, Pirate Party, 2005. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich-London.. Below : Paul McCarthy, Ketchup Sandwich, 1970-undated. Collection of the artist. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich-LondonPaul]]

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November 3 2008 2 03 /11 /November /2008 15:05

"A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace" (F.T. Marinetti)


From October 15th to January 26th, 2009, the futurist outlaws invade the Pompidou Center. They glorified war, destruction and arson and one will certainly fail to find, in this group of enraged Italians, the ideal son-in-law or a model for academic artists. Unfortunately, everything must come to an end. And not always the way you imagined it would. And though they asked once begged to be "thrown in the waste paper basket like useless manuscripts" and to be murdered by "younger and stronger men", they actually end up under the spotlights of a prestigious museum, one of "those cemeteries of wasted effort, calvaries of crucified dreams, registers of false starts". You can't always choose which way you'll finally go. Throughout time, they exhorted the automobile as a blazing monster which could burn down art, throw our senses into panic mode and scare society's values.

Of course, it seems a little bit flippant to consider car arsons, such as those which regularly smoke out the breaking news section (Vitry-le-François, "From Paris with Love"... and "From Montfermeil with Hate", a burned-out project by Luc Besson, the "Civil War" in 2005) like works of art and the charming arsonists like damned artists or visionary futurists. However, it is not totally stupid to consider there might a message behind the smoke. Not a concept, but a shout for help. A fire alarm. For a short and quick summary and (eventually) the ideal soundtrack, watch the video "Stress", which Romain Gavras directed for the band Justice.

The descendants of The Obedient or of The Never Happy (ancient and poetic name of your actual Peugeot 307) have greatly inspired numerous contemporary artists, in different and various aspects of mistreatments and expressions of violence. No reference here to Erwin Wurm's force-fed and chubby cars but rather to what appears as determined wishes to inflict pain to our next best friend... after television. The pioneer of this Crash-esque scene (no way we can avoid mentioning J.G. Ballard and Cronenberg... no way!) is certainly Cesar Baldaccini. Compressions of vehicles reduced to an aesthetical minimalism, radical destruction of the illusory consumptions during the mid 60s. Question: "what to do with a car's empty metal frame?". Artists answer by dealing with the carcass as raw material. On Unpainted Sculpture, 1997, Charles Ray casts damaged remains of Pontiac Gran Am and reconstructs it exactly on fiberglass. Sylvie Fleury, as usual, mixes eroticism, luxury, humor, femininity and violence into her Skin Crime series, covering dead cars with shiny colors. A technique similarly used by the Scottish artist Rory MacBeth who paints abandoned wrecks and leaves them in situ, creating an incongruous and poetic gap in a reality filled up with violence. It'd be hard not to mention Adel Abdessemed in an article, which draws comparisons between works (!). The piece Practice Zero Tolerance, 2006, was a life-sized carbonic reproduction of a burnt car. The confrontation of the oppositions becomes apparent on Who, among you, deserves eternal life? by Erik Smith. Two cars, a black one, and a white one, question themselves during a suspended time beyond sculpture limits. Nicolas Descottes, finally, reintroduces cold violence in his photographs of burning vehicles or stopped by goalposts during their crazy races: the absurdity of life could even makes us smile.


Fleury


The recent Paris fairs confirmed the current market trend. The Car Show by Tuomo Manninen at Analix Forever Gallery, smooth and resting pictures of crashed cars, the perfectly warped windshields by Guillaume Cabantous at Odile Ouizeman gallery, the Suicide Car (Ford Scorpio Ghia) by Christoph Büchel at Hauser & Wirth gallery, a recomposed blown-up wreck with breaking news broadcasted by the car's radio. Traces of our fragility, confrontations of the dull and contained everyday violence. Fasten your seat belts as artists bring you, by their, side, on a deaddly trip. Dead seat or burnt to death spot? Take your pick...


[Photo : Sylvie Fleury, Skin Crime 3 (Givenchy 318), 1997. peinture émaillée sur Fiat 128 compressée. Courtesy S. Fleury]

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October 27 2008 2 27 /10 /October /2008 17:16

The four main Parisian art fairs are the superheroes of this end of October. The press is excited, the art collectors are under tight scrutiny, the art galleries are stressed and art is… worried?


Diva : the Invisible Woman.

Diva suffers from a lack of visibility and publicity. Its location (the very beautiful Kube Hotel), its limited selection (11 galleries) and its restricted aim (to exhibit numeric art) predestine it to certain confidentiality. But that is not the only common point with the Invisible Woman. It is also a vaporous fair, immaterial, and vague, which is able to use powerful fields. The place is perfect to appreciate digital works and videos, but it seems inappropriate for sales, close as it seems to being a space dedicated to cultural exchanges rather than to commercial negotiations. Despite a few good surprises (the great presentation of the Widmer & Theodoris Gallery, the video of Katarina Zdjelar at the Mirta Demare Gallery or Alberto Borea at the Isabel Hurley Gallery), some real surprises (Nora Haime Gallery exhibiting almost exclusively… drawings! And Isabel Hurley presenting interesting photographs), Diva suffers from a lack of stature. It’s a coherent but elitist fair (including the prohibitive price of its ticket), lonely but innovative (a numeric art auction by Cornette de Saint-Cyr). To be fair, digital art is not the market’s favorite medium and its relative absence on others fairs proves it, so, it raises two questions: Is Diva very (too much) in advance or is it destined to… disappear?

This great group of 4 Fantastic Fairs is complete and complementary, each one has its own specificities and particularities, among which everyone can find a shoe that’ll fit, bring pleasure and identification. In the end, the only thing that could be frightening is not the art commercialization trend (logical on a fair) but its disappearance. Quantity and quality should be meditated and pondered, in order to allow, next year, a stronger selection. Art will not be satisfied with heroes. What Art wants and needs is… super heroes. 


> 1. FIAC
> 2. ShowOff
> 3. Slick



[Photo : Margeaux Walter, Untitled, 2007. Photgraphie, ed. 5. 76x102cm. Courtesy de M. Walter, Nohra Haime Gallery]

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October 27 2008 2 27 /10 /October /2008 17:05

The four main Parisian art fairs are the superheroes of this end of October. The press is excited, the art collectors are under tight scrutiny, the art galleries are stressed and art is… worried ?


Slick : the Thing.

Benjamin Jacob Grimm, alias the Thing, is a human being with a strange appearance and a nondescript form. He also benefits from incredible physical strength. Obviously, Slick took advantage of its move to the 104, a gigantic place adapted to a great fair, a mix between the Grand Palais and the Porte de Versailles space. But the new monster is a giant with clay feet. A lot of space and a vague sense of filling. An unclear intention: popular, serious, young, established? The Thing does not know what to incarnate. Colorful (the Cinthya Corbett stand, Vanessa Suchar and Duplex galleries); flirting with (W Gallery) or crashing into (Studio 55, Eugenio Merino at the ADN Galeria) ridicule; interesting (Catherine Issert, Vf Gallery, Corbett Projects) or honest to god great (the perfectly coherent southern folk at the Red Truck Gallery); but, also, so so (Addict), Burp (Una Gallery, China Beauty), bling bling, skulls and bullshits (Art Jingle Contemporary), or Wow (LHK, Norbert Pastor). Slick swims between hot and cold waters. It would make sense, next year, to offer ab actual selection, seriously, and to profit from the potential of some pertinent galleries. Well, unless they decide to do a popular art party, a kind of cultural bedlam… but that’s another Thing.


> 1. FIAC
> 2. ShowOff
> 4. Diva



[Photo : Chris Roberts-Antieau, Devil in a blue dress, 2007. Fibre appliquée sous du verre, châssis peint. Courtesy Red Truck Gallery et l'artiste] 


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October 27 2008 2 27 /10 /October /2008 16:52

The four main Parisian art fairs are the superheroes of this end of October. The press is excited, the art collectors are under tight scrutiny, the art galleries are stressed and art is… worried? 

Show Off: the Human Torch.

Born from the Fiac-denied galleries ashes, Show Off is becoming a strong and independent art fair. First take on the 2008 edition felt like a mean backlash in terms of quality, not of the exhibitors, but of the exhibited. But that was before visiting the Slick art fair… Truly, you did not have to go further than the reception desk, and the two galleries Odile Ouizeman and Oliver Robert. Two exemplary galleries, serious and creative. Olivier Robert, perfect in his hanging (the appropriated space by David Ancelin, the magical paintings by Elodie Lesourd) could obviously pretend to join the Mr. Fantastic forces. The rest of the works looked a little bit weak, exception be made for the (not totally) artist Scott Campbell at Massimo Carasi Gallery or the artworks presented at Analix Forever, by a group of artists all motivated by the same artistic quest/wish. There we some real failed attempts (School Gallery) as well as nice discoveries (Jodey Carey at the Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, Yuki Onodera at the RX Gallery). Show Off didn’t burn, but it was certainly dynamic and determined to compete with the Fiac. Fighting with its own weapons and dealing with a delicate place in which to show the works, it moves from an anteroom position to a lawful status of qualitative and dynamic art fair. All Show Off needs now, is to avoid getting too close to the sun. 


> 1. FIAC
> 3. Slick
> 4. Diva

.


[Photo : Christian Gonzenbach, Redemption, 2006. Impression ultrachrome sur papier. 100 x 60 cm. Archive Galerie Edward Mitterrand, Genève. Courtesy de l'artiste] 



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October 27 2008 2 27 /10 /October /2008 16:34

The four main Parisian art fairs are the superheroes of this end of October. The press is excited, the art collectors are under tight scrutiny, the art galleries are stressed and art is… worried ?


The Fiac : Mr. Fantastic.

The International Contemporary Art Fair is the undisputed leader of the happy art window dressers group. The oldest, most renowned, most anticipated one too. This year, like Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, it acts as Elastic Man. Grand Palais, Cour Carrée du Louvre Jardin des Tuileries, Marcel Duchamp Prize, Opening performances programs with the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume museums… hard to escape from its sprawling arms. Since 2006, the fair has regenerated to a risky move and to the Martin Bethenod - Jennifer Flay duet and has grown, drawing international attention once again. No matter the figures (internationalization rates, global sales, average weight of entering spectator, indexation on stock exchange prices: everything is under control), France needs a strong, dynamic and appealing Fiac. Some critics have complained about the absence of some historical French galleries and about some detachment towards the specific modern art called “French exception”. They are nostalgic of the golden age in the French art market that probably contributed to prevent France from moving forward. They fear that the Fiac will be no longer different from the Frieze Art Fair or Art Basel… What a shame: becoming incontrovertible!...

It seems more judicious to fight the competitors with the same weapons and to stop thinking that, finally, the come back of the impressionist or academism movements could be a good thing (We already have our “old new artists” such as Armand Jalut or Marlène Mocquet, who reminisce of last century’s beginnings). Notice how galleries clearly exhibit their strongest values, as these three solo shows prove it: the explosive Marc Quinn at the Hopkins Custot Gallery, the magnificently sober Christopher Wool at the Luhring Augustine Gallery, and the demoniac Jake & Dinos Chapman at the White Cube gallery. Few surprises, few risks are to be found, even from expected galleries like Eva Hober or Peres Projects. In the middle of established giants (a spectacular Hauser & Wirth stand and a beautiful display at the Thaddaeus Ropac gallery), some galleries stand out while the going is good: the Cosmic Gallery (and a brilliant guitar by James Hopkins) or the efficient stand of the Bernier/Eliades Gallery. Crisis effect or not, seriousness was really present. And it is not necessarily a bad thing. Not really Fantastic but the Fiac proudly put up a fight for its place.


> 2. ShowOff
> 3. Slick
> 4. Diva 



[Photo : Jim Shaw, Untitled, 2008. Huile sur toile. 178 x 117 cm. © Jim Shaw]



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October 20 2008 2 20 /10 /October /2008 18:07

In 2002, the Icelandic band Sigur Rós released an album titled (). Empty brackets, which locked nothing up, not even a subtitle. An "untitled" album.

 
Not really a revolution, there are plenty of eponymous albums in contemporary musical history, but a new thing. An open space filled up with silence, white spreading all over the cover and nothing, not even song titles came to spoil the whiteness. The entire album was sung in "volenska", a language the lead singer invented (and let's just say it's not that easy for an inexperienced ear to distinguish the traditional Icelandic language from its "volenskian" doggerel version). They're going so far as to ask for bar code stickers to be removed. A come back to anonymity, a virgin land free from interpretation. A no man's land acting like a mirror to our escaping wills, a place where everything has to be discovered, accompanied only by the ethereal and wrongfully minimal sound of Sigur Rós.

This musical () has its visual equivalent. Thousands of untitled works have proliferated in contemporary art for years now. We won't make a list of historically title-orphaned pieces, let's just remember that the "untitled" label used to be reserved to sketches or uninteresting preliminary drawings or those found a posteriori. During the 1960s, the "untitled" title took a different meaning. Conceptual artists decided to take it as a justification for work based on a dematerialized aesthetic and a weak visual aspect. The parodic critic found an incarnation into trivial images, documentary shoots in which the "untitled" thing annihilated every hope or will to link them to conventional art. This lack of denomination left the spectator cold and lost (alone in the Icelandic desert?), with no way out. A situation we are not used to dealing with. For instance, during the same period, in 1968 precisely, the Beatles released one of their masterworks, the eponymous album. We almost immediately gave it a new name, the "white album" for Richard Hamilton's beautiful cover. The absence of words on an object left us at a loss because it disturbed our senses. That's exactly what the first generation of conceptual artists wanted.


cattelan


Fatally, like any good idea, it quickly turned into something meaningless and embezzled by a litany of me-too artists. Or lazy ones. Obviously, it is easier and quicker to avoid giving titles to one's works. No opening, no hidden meaning, no lead, no orientation and no thought either. It allows multiplication of the same pieces without changing its content. The spectator is lost into labyrinths of "untitled" artworks, with the date as only indication, having to describe the piece to share it. But some artists have decided to go a little bit further. They give the title "untitled" to their work and add a subtitle, between brackets, of course. So, Sigur Rós becomes a kind of conceptual paroxysm, teaching serious contemporary art a lesson. What on earth might the reason for brackets be? To distinguish from others who've also used "untitled"? Nostalgic, we can regret the disappearance of titles that sometimes glorify the work, make it smarter, and make it real too. So many examples such as the melancholic "Bidibidobidiboo" of Maurizio Cattelan, the opened "Self portrait as Kurt Cobain, as Andy Warhol, as Myra Hindley, as Marilyn Monroe" of Douglas Gordon, the misleading "10 photographic portraits of Christian Boltanski" of, well, Christian Boltanski, the poetic "Young virgin self-sodomized by the horns of her own chastity" of Salvador Dali or the explicit "6 random repartitions of 4 white and black squares according to the odd and even figures of the Pi number" of Francois Morellet.

Clearly, if, like Marlene Mocquet, you feel the need to give such titles as "they only wanted one flower into the landscape", "the human rainbow" or "the hair stuck into the clouds", please control yourselves. Name your work "untitled" or give it a title in "volenska".... I know I'm walking on a minefield here. It is so very strictly forbidden to criticize our young French (future) artists. They are rare mammals and an endangered species for which we have to implement all the possible preservation measures and devices, including the absolute interdiction to criticize (particularly those mean negative critics). Not that hard a job given that the French, and international, critics have been dead for a long time now... Brackets closed.


[Photo : Maurizio Cattelan, Bidibidobidiboo, 1996. Ecureuil naturalisé, ceramic, formica, peinture, acier. Grandeur nature. Courtesy : galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Maurizio Cattelan]

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