It’s been a while … because I needed a while … There you have it.
NMT – Paris – September/October 2011
As explained in a previous blog post, September is “re-entry” time in Paris. If so inclined one could spend 24/7 looking at all the new exhibitions, going to all art fairs (Art-o-rama, Marseille ; Docks Art, Lyon ; Marrakech Art Fair), biennials (Lyon, Venice …), new collectors initiatives (François and Jean-Philippe Billarant’s new Silo outside of Paris), run to all gallery exhibition openings, stay up all Saturday night to see the many temporary contemporary art installations on view during la Nuit Blanche (“all nighter”) on October 1st in Paris …
Alternatively, and this has been very relaxing personal choice this year, you can put your iPhone on airplane mode, put on some comfortable walking shoes and breathe in the soft Indian Summer air while quietly strolling from one exhibition to the next without any particular “agenda” other than the sheer pleasure of feeding the eye.
You’ll come across the good, the bad and the ugly – a little like little red riding hood or, in French, le petit Chaperon rouge – and sometimes you won’t know until much later whether you’ve been gobbled up alive or whether you’ve come nose to nose with something worthwhile.
Here are some images of my recent finds. I would recommend some more than others, but I won’t do so today. I’d rather encourage you to go out there and explore for yourselves.
Slideshow of an Indian Summer art stroll through Paris:
“When looking at African art, the more you feel aggressed, the more attentive you need to be, don’t be afraid to be shaken up, to be jolted.” – Jacques Kerchache
Born in Rouen in 1942, Jacques Kerchache opened his first art gallery in Paris at age 18 and went on his first trip to West Africa at 21. He soon began displaying traditional West African art alongside artworks by European artists. At the time, African ritual objects and reliquaries were condescendingly referred to as art nègre. Jacques Kerchache recognized and spent four decades fervidly promoting their intrinsic artistic qualities up to his death in 2001.
Today the Cartier foundation in Paris pays homage to the man who coined the term arts premiers and obtained its inclusion in the collections of the Louvre. From April 5th until September 25th, an exhibition devoted to the West African sculptural tradition of the former kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin, western Nigeria and Togo) sheds light onto this heart of darkness. One hundred bocio sculptures and figurines formerly part of the ancient religious cult and philosophical tradition Vodun – the origins of the more popularly known, colonially influenced Voodoo offsprings – are thus displayed in Italian designer Enzo Mari’s highly effective scenography, highlighting extracts of a unique collection and providing insight into a man’s life and passion.
Jacques Kerchache’s aesthete’s eye and intimate knowledge of West African beliefs, customs and ritual ceremonies gained over time through patience, luck and courage, gave him a unique vantage point. Convinced that “masterpieces are very rare because great artists are very rare in all societies” he set out to unearth “the Michelangelo and Giacometti of these (West African) societies.”
Kerchache thus treated his finds with equal respect and was keen to initiate the West to not only the cultural but also the artistic intricacies of his finds in ways and through means that they would understand and be able to connect to. Upon returning from one of his early trips into the heart of the black continent he not only displayed Mahongwe m’bweti reliquary figures (found in a dried-up well in modern-day Gabon, discarded by Christian missionaries in the 1930s) but published an accompanying catalogue with a text by French poet and essayist Claude Roy. The ensuing arrest of Jacques Kerchache in Gabon where he was accused of art smuggling added scandal and notoriety to a singular life trajectory.
Dealing in art, in tribal art objects, acting as advisor and go-between between European collections (both private and institutional) and curating several exhibitions, Jacques Kerchache made numerous trips to Africa and also to Southeast Asia while running his gallery in rue de Seine from 1965 until 1980. (Rue de Seine in Paris’s Saint-Germain district still remains a center for tribal arts with the Parcours des mondes event celebrating tribal art every month of September since 2001)
A fortuitous holiday encounter on the island of Mauritius in 1991 with Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris, allows trailblazer Kerchache to take his ambitions to yet another level. His dream of introducing traditional, tribal art into the Louvre – as expressed in a “manifesto” published in French daily Libération a year earlier – becomes reality in the year 2000 with the inauguration of the Pavillon des Sessions at the Louvre and prefigures the inauguration of what became known as the Quai Branly museum in 2006.
What strikes me as being particularly effective about the current exhibition at the Fondation Cartier is of course the forcefulness of the pieces displayed. But then again, I am no specialist and incredibly uncertain as to whether I would be able to tell “mere folk art” or a “standard votive offering” from a “masterpiece” – a distinction which Kerchache keenly made… (Is it safe to presume that at least 95% of the foundation’s visitors share my humble position?)
What really gives me access into the world of Vodun rituals and aesthetics plus precious insight into the efforts of an extraordinary man is in large part a highly effective exhibition layout and presentation. The scenography draws me in immediately as of my first impressions on the ground floor and prepares me for a complete immersion into the full abundance of other-worldly beauty on the basement level.
Italian designer Enzo Mari’s scenography combines understated, minimalist simplicity (untreated wood, uncomplicated structures, spacious presentation) with the refined sophistication that high art presented in such a foundation deserves. It respectfully emphasizes the aesthetic and artistic nature of the objects displayed thanks to devices such as individual glass casing and dramatic lighting. It also provides a certain narrative backdrop that encourages the layman to feel closer to a totally foreign belief-system.
A small selection of elongated, wooden sculptures are displayed in the first part of the exhibition. Presented in a circular layout in front of vertical panels suggesting huts with a particular focus on a sculpture placed in the center, the visitor is included in this “village”. On the other side of the ground floor, boxy wooden seats encourage the onlooker to sit down and watch extracts of interviews with Jacqes Kerchache and documentary snippets of Vaudun rituals. The low-key seating arrangement and its voluntarily makeshift appearance contribute to an impression of immediacy and intimacy. Wooden displays along the edges show black and white photographic material from the 1960s, catalogues, type-written letters and newspaper articles providing archival evidence of Kerchache’s progress from adventurous youth to political advisor, from the original black and white budget catalogues to luxurious coffee table publications. We can thus begin to imagine a man’s impassioned pursuit of beauty in places where few others were sensitive enough to recognize it and begin to feel part of a journey that no one today will be able to make again.
In the basement section, 48 dramatically lit Vaudun statuettes presented on individual plinths offer a dazzling contrast to the first section’s light and airy simplicity. Here the visitor walks as through a forest, free to stop and admire each individual bocio or figuring. Contained within square, glass cases and placed at eye level the visitor can easily study the details of their assembled fabrication (metal, wood, textile and leather straps, padlocks, seashells, beads …) and intimately engage with their foreign force and beauty.
Jacques Kerchache had said, “Artists have always had a privileged relationship with works of art based on their experience of the sensual. I have endeavored to make that unique way of seeing mine, a way of seeing that creates strangely familiar bondes between humans and works of art. It has accompanied me throughout my career.” The current exhibition at Fondation Cartier does his ambition justice.
“Vodun: African Voodoo” is showing at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain from April 5th to September 25th, 2011.
261, boulevard Raspail
Paris 14th – metro: Denfert-Rochereau (line 6)
It’s difficult for people outside of France to grasp the full extent of the annual August shutdown. But business, social life and art really do go into Beach Orbit for a full four weeks of the year.
September is the month of re-entry, it’s la rentrée. Kids go back to school. Corporate types swap their Villebrequin shorts for ties. Deal makers dial C for Cash from city pads not yachts. Journalists type away from within their humble abodes, flip-flops and espadrilles flung into a corner after poolside sojourns at auntie Gwendoline’s (“Thank God for family after all!”) …
And the art flock – the monied, the passionate, the busy bees, the clueless and the sharks – all reassemble for a renewed round of friendly back-stabbing artworld banter. Galleries re-open their doors. Institutions work up to their blockbuster exhibition openings. Art fairs rev their ever-more finely tuned engines. Curators sharpen minds and pencils eager to demonstrate their yet-to-be-revealed genius in The Next Brilliant Exhibition. (“I will find a sponsor this time!”) Finally, the re-energized art critic can’t wait to dish out sweets or spanks depending ; the mere thought sends anticipatory frissons down his reptilian spine.
Whether mind and body of the art flâneur can take the full shock of renewed activity really entirely depends on the quantity and quality of sun, rosé, lengthy snoozes, extended meals and other summer delights absorbed.
Yes, it is indeed re-entry time in Paris.
Bonne rentrée! and buckle up because they’ve announced quite a ride!
Just in case you’re feeling frustrated ’cause the galleries have closed shop for the summer, you can see some contemporary creations at La Maison Rouge (Fondation Antoine de Galbert) near Bastille in Paris.
“My Winnipeg,” June 23rd – September 25th, 2011
Maison Rouge – Fondation Antoine de Galbert
10 bd de la Bastille – 75012 Paris
Who said contemporary art is hard work? French artist Claude Levêque invites visitors to lie down in his new piece commissioned by Galeries Lafayette and on view in the 1st floor exhibition space of the Parisian department store (Paris, 9th).
Note: Claude Levêque represented France at the Venice Biennale in 2009.
American artist Cy Twombly dies in Rome, aged 83 … It’s a good time to go gaze into the blue of his monumental ceiling work commissioned by the Louvre and inaugurated in 2010 …
And the Pompidou has one of his paintings hanging right at the beginning of their new presentation of the permanent collection on the 4th floor … Beautiful ….
The Pompidou is also displaying his model for a bronze monument that was to be placed at the center of the Place Furstenberg (Paris, 6th) designed in 2005.
The Petit Palais is showing “Charlotte Perriand. From Photography to Furniture”, until September 18th, 2011. The creator of the famous LC2 Grand Confort armchair, the B301 reclining chair and B306 chaise longue (all three from 1928) this exhibition reveals that she also practiced her keen eye in photography, capturing people and landscapes in tight black and white compositions, simple yet powerful like her furniture.
Longtime subsumed by the overpowering aura of Le Corbusier, with whom she collaborated for 10 years, and Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand has gained more and more widespread recognition over the last couple of decades as one of the leaders of early Modern furniture, architecture and interior design.
The exhibition is inserted among the ecclectic collection of the City of Paris displayed in this palace designed by Charles Girault for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. Fyi, it has a nice café in its très picturesque inner courtyard garden and visiting its permanent collection is free of charge. Click here for an overview of the Petit Palais’ permanent collections.
Richard Prince’s solo show “American Prayer” is showing at Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris 13th until June 21st, 2011.
Very cool expo. My only regret is that I hadn’t gone to see it sooner.
PS. The images are not meant to appear sideways. The image gallery insert thang on this blog is just not feeling cooperative today. I’ll fix it sometime later.
Last year in 2010 the newly created Canson award for drawing selected French artist Fabien Merelle (b. 1981) as its first winner.
This year’s selection is on for (free) viewing at Hôtel de Sauroy – a 17th c. townhouse, not a hotel – at 58, rue Charlot, Paris 3rd until June 19th, 2011. After this date, the drawings will continue to be exhibited at the Louvre.
Here are some images (names of artists/artworks to follow).
Among the strongest pieces are Gregory Forstner’s intriguing Hôtesses de l’air (“hostesses of the air” or stewardesses), two large format charcoal portraits – already acquired by a private collection in Switzerland.
They provide a glimpse of the artist’s strange and dark world of painting: