Note: This month’s ArtSeen is a sort of in-between space, to announce what is happening, how things are looking, to signal the forthcoming further focus on Boris Achour (May ArtSeen, with 2 shows opening in April 2009 with his works: not to be missed if you are here!!!)
Last week I attended a lecture on rhetoric at la Sorbonne where the invited guest said “beauty plus history equals art”. This passé notion made me flinch. I wondered what he would do with all of the self-flagellating artists of the 1970s who self-mutilated on film or in live performance pieces. More importantly, when I reflect on the current art focus of Paris, how would he see the use of objects as art? Not pretty, ornamental things from some other era, but gigantic colorful cows, a rumpled, worn-out dress tossed on a museum floor, or Paris artists Olivier Babin, with his bronze, painted watermelon(photo above) entitled “Art for the very last people”, 2005, and Boris Achour, with his “Actions Few” (1993-97) a kind of “soft guerilla warfare”. Achour, unlike Babin, does not make an object, but used objects found on the spot in unusual “public interventions” which he then photographed and filmed—as in his hanging baguette (see photo, from his site: http://www.borisachour.net/).
Propaganda, art, fame, object, design, life, utility, beauty, consumer(ism)—the world of art has battled with these themes, terms, and their ramifications for ages, but ever since the 1917 urinal entitled “Fountain” by Duchamp and his many other Ready-Mades, the artworld, and its audience (museum-going tourists to critics and collectors) have both expressed moments of dubiousness, and others of sheer pleasure when looking at (or touching) something we might see in other contexts as “everyday item”. This month’s Artseen therefore reflects on a few Parisian artists, galleries and museums who focus on the object: not those who make installations of objects from their own lives or around rooms they have lived in (such as the many museums focused on famous author’s lives and how/where they lived—like Victor Hugo’s house) but those who take the object away from its natural setting and, à la Marcel Duchamp, make us see it again, anew, differently—in as simple ways as seen in works by Paris artist Sophie Calle, for example her bed, which she mailed to a lovesick Josh Greene and around which emerged an expo of bed, letters, emails (see photo).
What is certain is that artist’s—especially those here—have been trying to modify our interaction with art for over a century, and one of their ways of doing this has been through an exploration of the object, both objectified from the tradition of the still life through the very amusing play on simulacrum. Duchamp wanted to move the object away from a purely “retinal art” position. Boris Achour’s does this in an entirely new way, playing on the context not of the object in museum, but of art in the world, and also of it. For example, for “A Sculpture”, Achour deposited 20 books with glued pages in 20 public libraries around Paris. These were cataloged and shelved as fiction books, because they look like books, yet they are not readable (http://borisachour.free.fr/english-oeuvres/asculpture.html ). The “spectator” for this artwork will not be seeking out art, but reading material, when he/she stumbles upon the art object. Purpose, aesthetic, and interaction with “art” are all put into question, in very fun ways by such a project: a tricking of context takes place when the everyday object, or perceived thing, is out of place in comic or perplexing ways.
Often, however, the contemporary treatment of things reverses this effect to make us see the object again, focus on our visual relationship with it—just as with the soccer ball pictured here, (also from “Actions Few”), where Achour has transformed one of the iron spheres forming a border between pedestrian and driving space into a soccer ball. The likely viewer will be a pedestrian, perhaps out running errands, who might not even notice the work, or see it as “art”. They might even try and give it a kick (with painful consequences). The initial viewer’s interaction with the creation will not be the same as our interaction with Achour’s photo or film of it in a gallery, or here. The artist therefore is finding (and seeking) ways to move through various spaces, taking himself and work into and out of the expected role of art(ist) and object(ifier/-maker). Once in the gallery, however, and hung on the wall, there is a return to the object objectified, such as in the popular consumer items portrayed like icons by Andy Warhol.
In fact, Paris’s art scene this spring is focused on the OBJECT, in so many ways perhaps because of the 2 splendid Warhol shows which are ongoing, one with 140 portraits at the Grand Palais, (thru 13 July 2009), and “Warhol TV” at La Maison Rouge. There is also the new show on Jacques Tati which opened this week at the cinémathèque française. Focused on a French filmmaker, the cinémathèque takes the visitor into the world of the objects—many comic—from Tati4s movies, such as “Playtime” or “Mr Hulot”. The visit includes a variety of ways of placing the “art” spectator in various relationships with the set designs, objects and excerpts from Tati’s films. As one sees in this photo from the opening on April 7th, here visitors sit on a spongy, bright green designer bench across from fake 50s-style TVs (each screen inside a constructed black box with accompanying fake black antennae) to watch various extracts from the films as well as comments from contemporary directors on Tati’s work. All in a row, in Technicolor, spectators watching other spectators cannot avoid noting how a peculiar Warhol-like effect is created which echoes the ’50s era of gadget reproduction, and of efforts to be like one’s suburban neighbors (in the States) or in Tati’s films.
What is not seen in my photo is that these guests are also in front of an enormous white pipe, above which hangs a sign saying in English “This is a pipe” (as opposed to the expected French reference to Magritte’s “ceci n’est pas une pipe”). The play between object seen, interacted with and word (a work’s title) are a frequent focus of artists who make or use objects, such as Olivier Babin. Babin’s titles give his work a tone, as in his “Art for the very last people”, 2005, pictured above, which is a watermelon, or this image of blackened newspapers entitled “Bad News Travel Fast”, (2008, Free papers, Black spraypaint) from his expo at Frank Elbaz, “Tout sur le noir” and “Museum Quality #3 - Mr. William Randolph Hearst’s Favorite Log” (2008, represented by Los Angeles gallery Honor Fraser (http://www.artnet.com/gallery/424709265/honor-fraser.html). Babin’s titles add a dimension, either as commentary on the manufactured or blackened item, or, in the later image, inducing the viewer to reflect on the life of Hearst, the already multiple fictions surrounding this newspaper magnate’s existence, and what a log and “favorite” as well as “museum quality” might imply. Is the focus then on the object made, or the sentence written about that object?
Olivier Babin- Bad News Travel Fast
Olivier Babin Museum Quality #3- Mr. William Randolph Hearst’s Favorite Log
The question of production and produced always comes into play in art which is a fabricated object or is object-focused. Just as “Readymades” was a 1915 term distinguishing manufactured from handmade goods, Duchamp thus comments on artist-as-maker by not handmaking his own “readymades”, but by taking manufactured pieces out of their factory-dictated contexts, away from their uses, often hanging them upside down, flipping them over, and titling them then adding titles. Similarly, Warhol produced over 1000 portraits of famous people in 30 years, which when one thinks about it, almost feels like the assembly line products his other work has become a commentary on, such as his Campbell’s soup cans, or Coca Cola bottles. As Guardian newspaper commentator, Angelique Chrisafis wrote, “He was inspired by mass-produced Catholic-Orthodox icons to eventually create a modern portrait factory of his own”. Taking Chrisafis’ idea one step farther, one notices Warhol is making portraits of containers—the face/facade for the person, the can for the soup, the bottle for the drink, the electric chair for its victim, and perhaps the original religious iconography of his youth for the faith. In the end, as we wander round Paris visiting the city, its facades, it also visits us. Similarly, contemporary artists are often more interested in taking their focus on the object to the next level, making spaces the viewer walks into, worlds, as much as taking things out of context. For example, Boris Achour’s 2003 Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers show “Playing with Dead Things” (see photo) was “an exhibition-work within which the onlooker strolls about in an environment plunged in twilight, where only objects of an unexpected nature and size - a giant sausage, garden fences, an iceberg, bags, a desk, flower-beds - are lit up in a theatrical manner.” Similar to the ongoing Jacques Tati show, this expo by Achour sought to associate “the aesthetics of TV games, minimal sculpture, the décor of a nursery school spectacle, a park amusement” in a way which surrounded and involved the viewer. In his forthcoming April 2009 show in Paris, Achour again will take his viewer inside the viewed, making a spectacle and a space at la Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, Paris, opening on the 22nd of April 2009.
Boris Achour-Playing with Dead Things
AT : Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, 36 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris.
Expo: “Boris Achour, Conatus: celui dans la grotte” from 22 April-23 May 2009 (http://www.galerie-vallois.com/fr/artiste.html )
AT : Le Grand Palais, Avenue Winston Churchill 75008 Paris.
Expo “La Force de l’art 2009” from 24 April thru 1 June 2009 (not Tues.) (http://www.grandpalais.fr/fr/Accueil/p-93-Accueil.htm )
Achour’s own webpage: http://www.borisachour.net/
Note: Next month I will take a closer look at Boris Achour, with an interview with him for Artseen VII.
AT: Galerie Frank Elbaz, http://www.galeriefrankelbaz.com/
Andy Warhol in Paris
AT : Le Grand Palais, 3, avenue du Général-Eisenhower, 75008 Paris
Expo « Le Grand Monde d’Andy Warhol » thru 13 July 2009.
AT: La Maison Rouge: 10 boulevard de la bastille, 75012 Paris
Expo “Warhol TV”, thru 3 May 2009:
AT : La Cinémathèque française – Musée du cinéma, 51 rue de Bercy – 75012 PARIS
Expo « Jacques Tati, deux temps, trois mouvements », thru 2 August 2009 : http://www.cinematheque.fr/ Fun images from show at : http://www.cinematheque.fr/fr/expositions-cinema/tati/index/bienvenue.html
AT : Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, 76 rue de Turenne & 1à impasse St Claude, 75003 Paris
Her bed with writings by Josh Greene and herself, online at:
Jennifer K Dick is an author (of Fluorescence, Retina, & Enclosures) and teacher (currently at EHESS and Ecole Polytechnique). She co-organizes the bilingual IVY reading series with Michelle Noteboom in Paris which began in a gallery thanks to curator Susie Hollands. Jennifer is now completing her PhD at Paris III on visual uses of the page in poetry: text and image in works by Anne marie Albiach, Myung Mi Kim and Susan Howe.