Paris Gallery Beat: Six Must-See Shows This Fall
From Laurent Grasso to Olga de Amaral, we review Paris's best exhibitions.
Galerie Perrotin, Laurent Grasso, “Soleil Double,” closes October 31
How would the world be different if it had two suns? The question has been nagging Laurent Grasso for several years, and he imagines its consequences in this sprawling show at Galerie Perrotin. Paintings, neons, sculptures, and video works map an alternative universe, its history shaped by the destructive forces of this fantastic pair of stars. The artist calls the paintings punctuating the space his Studies into the Past, each functioning as the historical proof of events that never were. Borrowing from the Early Renaissance pictorial vocab of Paolo Uccello, they depict, in intricate detail, catastrophes and wars, as well as the soldiers, knights, and wise men that inhabit his created phantasmagoria.
Grasso doesn’t let his fiction linger in the distant past. Stand-alone neon circles, such as Eclipse (2013) and Soleil Double (2014), take it to Bruce Nauman. The two Anechoic Walls (2014), made with copper and marble respectively, nod to composer John Cage and his legendary visit to Harvard University’s anechoic chamber. The references are somewhat tired—a reassuring territory of well-trodden art historical avenues—but this familiarity helps visitors suspend disbelief for Grasso’s own interventions. Back out in the dull Parisian sunshine, some will no doubt continue to wonder: what if?
Gaudel de Stampa, Jonathan Binet, closes October 25
Gaudel de Stampa’s new gallery on Quai des Grands Augustins feels a bit like a studio at the moment. Jonathan Binet’s canvases hang so low that they seem propped up against the wall, as if still waiting to transition from the intimacy of the creative space to the very public exhibition space. This orchestrated confusion between “making” and “displaying” has won Binet much attention of late. The artist is coming of age while the likes of David Ostrowski and Lucien Smith are driving bidders into a frenzy (see “Ostrowski Triumphs at Phillips’ Otherwise Tepid Contemporary Sale”). And he shares something of their process-driven practices. Here, stretchers are assembled and wrapped up in cloth, some of it slashed open to reveal parts of the wood frame. The canvas’ rectangular shape is challenged again and again, as if Binet was building on the legacy of Lucio Fontana and Support/Surface, and testing the resistance of the painting format.
But where Binet stands out, both in relation to his contemporaries and to his predecessors, is in his understanding of the pictorial mechanism as embracing an entire space rather than a finite surface. The many single screws dotting the gallery walls not only generate the fiction of an artist endlessly trying out different permutations but, more importantly, they also connect the works on view, shifting gears from a painting presentation to an immersive installation. One comes to understand Binet’s works not as individual objects, but as a series of occurrences, the traces of performative acts whose whole point is the physical grappling with the medium’s suffocating tradition.
kamel mennour, Michel François, “Ciel Ouvert,” closes October 11
Two infinity signs face each other in the first gallery—one is intact, the other cut open. Made with white rope half-dipped in plaster, they send out contradictory messages: eternity and finitude, endless possibilities and the total absence thereof. These sentiments permeate the spectacular installation the Belgian Michel François has devised for kamel mennour’s project space, rue du pont de Lodi. Hanging from the glass ceiling, a silver net shimmers in the sunlight while forbidding, metaphorically at least, any hope of ascent (Interface, 2014). Down below, bronze peanuts are scattered on a thick layer of sterile tarmac (Eco System (2), 2014). Folded pieces of blue metal have been incrusted into the wall and peek through cloud-shaped holes, each promising an elsewhere that remains tantalizingly out of reach.
The conceptual tension that subtends these works is echoed in the contrasting materials themselves: the slick shine of the bronze against the dull tarmac, the ethereal feel of the wall pieces and their metal-sheet reality, more redolent of car crashes than celestial voyages. But the very idea of contrast could be a red herring. François’s objects and sculptural situations occupy a liminal space, a neither-nor. This intrinsic instability is also their strength.
Michel Rein, ORLAN, “Masques, Pekin Opera facing designs & réalité augmentée,” closes October 18
ORLAN has been described as a performer, a photographer, and an activist. Yet her body isn’t just a tool, a subject, or a battleground—even if it is all of these things. In her “Carnal Art Manifesto,” she calls it “a modified ready-made,” a work perpetually in progress—and one she is now taking to the digital world. At Michel Rein, gallery-goers are invited to point an iPad at pictures of the artist wearing Beijing Opera masks, the motifs of which are endlessly repeated in the background. The artist’s avatar appears on the iPad screen jumping out of the frame and cartwheeling around the gallery. It invades the buffer zone that usually separates viewers from the objects of their contemplation, thus challenging what remains one of the givens of art appreciation.
Although modest in size, the exhibition judiciously places ORLAN’s foray into the digital within the wider context of her practice by presenting a group of works linked to her earlier experiments. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the artist created a stir by championing plastic surgery as art (and to this day sports two cheekbone implants on her forehead). The self as a metamorphosis has governed ORLAN’s work ever since, leading, among other things, to a string of photographic reinventions—as a Native American chief, a pre-Columbian priest, a lip-plate-wearing African woman—all positing hybridity as a central tenet of identity. In this light, the final frontier that is the digital is natural territory for ORLAN to explore.
Galerie Agnès Monplaisir, Olga de Amaral, “El Dorado Thread,” closes September 24
It is perhaps no surprise that Galerie Agnès Monplaisir chose to open Olga de Amaral’s exhibition “El Dorado Thread” during Paris’s “Parcours des Mondes,” a yearly celebration of tribal art simultaneously held in sixty galleries. The Colombian artist’s precious metal tapestries evoke the treasures of long-lost civilizations. One can almost imagine these shimmery cloths gleaming in the dark antechambers of some ancient pyramids. But more than triggering these semi-romantic fantasies, de Amaral’s pieces entice by their formal complexity, the beguiling quality of their small patterns, repetitive without ever being monotonous. The traditions of abstraction—in both their Western and South American occurrences—are injected with a textural dynamism that seduces the eye as much as it tempts the hand. Like all of the artist’s works, the pieces gathered in this bijou presentation resist any obvious taxonomy. They don’t belong to painting, sculpture, or craft. And yet they draw on the history of all these disciplines. It’s precisely this effortless interweaving of cultural threads that makes de Amaral’s production so convincing. It grants a new credibility to the well-worn concepts of timelessness and universality.
Galerie Karsten Greve, Catherine Lee, “Catherine Lee: Rift,” closes November 1
Catherine Lee creates order out of nothingness. A passionate champion of the grid, she slices up the space of the canvas into regular intervals, which are then filled with color in a repetitive gesture akin to a ritual. Time is the essence here. Each square is a unit, a marker of the artist’s life and its course towards its own finitude. Yet there’s not a trace of existential angst in these pieces. When the end has been accepted as inexorable, the focus can shift to the journey. What is most striking in the pieces currently shown at Karsten Greve isn’t the repetition of the motifs, but their sheer variety. The palette of each work is reduced to between two and four hues, and yet each square is different from the next, giving the canvas an intense sense of dynamism. It’s not only order that Lee conjures up in her paintings, but her entire world that she fits into a square.
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